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Russia is now out to cripple its economy

This is not a new Cold War. These new upgraded, "phase three" economic sanctions will not suddenly bring Russia to its knees. But what they will do, coupled with Russia's response to them, is make it impossible for Russia to escape the middle income trap — stop it from turning itself into a fully developed economy, with all the wealth and other benefits that western Europe enjoys, and its former satellites in eastern Europe are now acquiring.

That would be the least-bad outcome for Russia. It is massively dependent on energy prices and if they were to fall or even fail to rise, the country would slip backwards to the economic failure of the last days of the Soviet era — a failure that brought the old regime to its knees.

If that seems overly dramatic, remember why the Soviet empire collapsed. In popular mythology it was losing the military competition with the US. But behind that was the inability of its closed economic system to generate the wealth to persuade its citizens to keep it.

It was a failure of Comecon, the economic trading bloc founded in 1949 to bind its satellite countries to the Soviet Union, as much as the failure of the Soviet Union itself. If people in eastern Europe had been as rich as those in western Europe, the empire might well have survived.

The reasons for the failure of the Soviet Union's economic system are directly relevant to the sanctions being imposed on Russia now. For a while,...

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