Column: We pay a ‘peace surtax’ to back sanctions on Russia

Published: 10/15/2022 11:05:21 PM

Modified: 10/15/2022 11:05:18 PM

The news regarding the Ukraine over the past week is grim. Russia’s recent bombings of civilian targets in retaliation for the demolition of a key bridge connecting Crimea to the mainland is Vladimir Putin’s latest crime against humanity though hardly the most gruesome one. These bombings happened at the same time as OPEC announced its decision to support Putin by limiting their energy output in the coming months, which will result in higher energy prices across the globe. This, in turn, will contribute to a vicious economic cycle that the International Monetary Fund sees leading to a global recession in 2023.

Despite the dire consequences to Ukrainian citizens, his nation and the global economy, Vladimir Putin has given no indication that he will change his tactics. Indeed, New York Times writer German Lopez believes Putin is gambling that the Ukraine and the West “… will eventually falter under the constant pressure of war, and that Western support for Ukraine will collapse as energy prices rise this winter.”

Whether Putin’s gamble pays off depends on how citizens in the West respond to the inconvenience of paying more for energy, for the Ukraine has shown heroic courage and resolve. Subjected to bombings, rapes, pillaging and the wanton slaughter of civilians, including elders, women and children, the Ukrainians have not only remained steadfast; they have reclaimed territory occupied by the Russians, defeating and dispiriting the Russian army as they did so.

Western Europe has thus far remained united behind sanctions against Russia, even though residents of those nations are feeling economic pain and facing major immigration challenges. Some of the NATO allies, particularly those that have no fear of invading troops from Russia, may not be able to sustain their support, particularly as winter creates higher demand for energy and it becomes evident that the immigrants fleeing the invading armies or fleeing Russia to avoid the draft might be staying for an extended period of time.

Examples of fraying support are emerging. French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron warned voters to prepare to make sacrifices and as a result is getting pushback that could loosen his tenuous hold on the government and France’s participation in NATO.

France is not alone in facing disenchanted citizens. In early September The New York Times reported on demonstrations in Czechoslovakia criticizing that country’s membership in NATO and the European Union and described planned weekly demonstrations in Germany in opposition to rising costs. In late September ABC News reported that thousands marched in Brussels, Belgium in a “national day of action” to protest “skyrocketing electricity, natural gas and food prices” and draw attention to the increased cost of living in that nation.

As winter approaches and voters in Western European nations experience an increase in energy costs, will they sustain their support for the sanctions imposed by NATO or will they put their countries first? If there is no end in sight to Putin’s bombing of civilians and no threat to their country from the Russian army, will voters in Western Europe continue support for sanctions that require them to sacrifice?

Our country, far removed from the Ukraine, has not faced the severe economic consequences of our European allies, nor have we experienced the influx of immigrants fleeing the horrors of Putin’s invasion. How strong will our support be for maintaining sanctions when our energy prices increase and price increases ripple through our economy? Will our political leaders continue to support sanctions that require voters to make sacrifices when there is no immediate threat to our country?

Ultimately, each of us will play a role in determining whether Putin prevails. I liked paying less than $3 a gallon when no one was driving during the pandemic and I was OK with paying $3.41 per gallon for gas in December 2021 before Russia invaded Ukraine and we imposed sanctions. I felt squeezed when the price hit $5 over the summer and I am feeling a degree of relief now that the price is below $4.

But given what transpired this past week, I know the price of gas and heating oil will escalate. When the prices increase I intend to recall the pictures I’ve seen of bombed hospitals, schools and residential areas and the pictures of corpses strewn in the streets in Ukraine. When gasoline prices soar these pictures will remind me to view the additional costs as a “peace surtax.” A few dollars or cents for a gallon of gas is a small price to pay to support Ukrainians who’ve lost friends and relatives to the invaders and had their homes destroyed. It is a small price to pay to support those in Western Europe who might be threatened by invasion or who are hosting refugees from Ukraine. It is a small price to pay to send Putin a message: civilized democratic nations will not tolerate barbarism or authoritarianism.

And as the price for gas increases in the coming weeks, here’s a suggestion to mini-marts across our country: to help sustain our country’s support for sanctions, replace the video advertisements on gas pumps for soda and candy with videos of the devastation in Ukraine. Doing so will remind U.S. consumers that one of the primary factors contributing to the higher costs for gas is our country’s decision to impose sanctions on Russia, a decision we made to ensure that all citizens in all nations are safe from invasion and that the bombing of innocent citizens is unacceptable. I believe it was a good decision to impose sanctions. I’m willing to pay for it.

Wayne Gersen lives in Etna.



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