Departures Podcast featuring Maximilian Hess, author of ‘Economic War’

As Russia’s conflict with Ukraine grinds deep into year 2, there are signals of impatience and exhaustion among the country’s key supporters in the United States and Europe, and increasing chatter about “stalemate” and pushing Kyiv to the negotiating table. But even for the staunch isolationists who view the outcome of the conflict through the short-term lens, there are deep and profound implications for the future of the global economic system at stake, argues journalist Maximilian Hess in a new book.

Hess’s book, “Economic War: Ukraine and the Global Conflict between Russia and the West,” does not dwell long on the political motivations or the strategic calculations of the military conflict, but instead focuses on how the response after the 2014 annexation of Crimea prompted a rapid expansion of sanctions, trade disputes, and barrage of financial weapons between Russia and the West. 

These tensions have escalated to the point that the current war shouldn’t be viewed so narrowly as merely a land grab or a NATO-phobia in Moscow. Instead its meaning is much broader. it should be seen as a war against the primacy of the US dollar, the Bretton Woods system, and the overall economic order which has guided commercial relations among nations for the past half century.

The response to the February invasion, beyond providing assistance for Ukraine to defend its sovereignty, has been to collectively punish Russia and damage its economy – a strategy that is loaded with future liabilities.

“Even if one doesn’t accept all those arguments, or is a US isolationist, the argument I try to put forward is that if we lose this war, particularly if it then drives a wedge between the United States and Europe, that will be the beginning of the end of the international economic order which not only the West but so much of the world has benefitted from,” argues Hess in this interview with Robert Amsterdam.