The crisis in Ukraine is far from over, even though the major protests have ended and former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, has fled the country. Yanukovych still claims to be President, but is essentially out of the picture for now. But the troubles in Ukraine, and particularly the possible (and likely) succession of Crimea, are putting a damper on the Russian economy. For those not familiar with the situation, Crimea is a peninsular, autonomous parliamentary region in southern Ukraine which consists of predominantly-Russian peoples. It became a part of Ukraine when it gained independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Crimea mostly sympathizes with Russia, and the elections on Sunday will decide whether they will join Russia. They are expected to decide in favor of this.
So what if Crimea wants to join Russia, why should the world care? Well for one thing, Ukraine does not want to lose Crimea. And since the EU and the United States are sympathetic to the new Ukraine (planning to give $15 billion in loans, grants, and investments), these countries are condemning Russia’s push towards the acquisition of Crimea. The economic implications imply that trade with- and investment in- Russia will be reduced, and the effects will be felt in the Ukraine, the EU, the US, but mostly in Russia.
According to an article from the Financial Times, Russian companies are pulling billions out of western banks, in fear that the US will place sanctions over the Crimean crisis and that this could lead to an asset freeze. The fear alone, something we are well aware of in economic expectations, has had significant impacts on the Russian economy. The yield on Russia’s 10-year government bonds increased from 8% in January, to 9.7% on Friday. Also, the rouble is trading for 36.7 for a dollar (almost at its weakest rate in history). Russia’s top 10 billionaires are suspected to have lost $6.6 billion in their combined net worth, over this past week alone. “Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, who served in the State Department under Bill Clinton, said: “The irony is that the Russian banking sector has made quite a lot of progress in plugging into the global system. That means it is vulnerable, and a good lever for applying pressure.”” Evidently, the Russian banking sector is going to suffer deeply – not only from possible sanctions, but from the expectations surrounding them.
Europe and the US are expected to impose travel bans and asset freezes on certain individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, at first. And Russia is thus expected to respond with the same restrictions. Investors have already pulled $33 billion out of Russia in January and February, and that figure is expected to near $55 billion by the end of March, according to Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital. On top of this, Russia will face costs to maintain Crimea: estimates are that it will have to commit to roughly $10 billion per year over the next five years in order to build infrastructure, support pensions and pay social benefits to the region’s 2 million citizens.
Russia will experience a significant effect from all of this, as well as the EU and US. But effects on western countries will be miniscule compared to those in Russia. The EU’s exports to Russia account for 1% of EU GDP, while Russian exports to the EU are worth nearly 15% of Russian GDP. Germany has significant investments in Russia, and its impact is expected to be at most 0.1% to 0.2% on economic growth, over the next 12 months. This would be rather insignificant for the European recovery. The US is expected to see similar effects.
Thus, it is important to consider the vast implications of the crisis in Ukraine. Mostly, we should expect to see the Russian economy suffer after the Crimean decision to join Russia. However, the long-term effects are unclear. I suspect tensions will ease within a year, and sanctions will be reduced, allowing trade and investment to increase close to current levels. This is assuming that Crimea does in fact vote to join Russia, and that the European and American recoveries are not significantly interrupted.