| 4 March 2024, Monday |

French minister declares economic ‘war’ on Russia, and then beats a retreat

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced a “all-out economic and financial war” on Russia as punishment for invading Ukraine, before retracting words he subsequently believed was unacceptable.

The US and its allies have sanctioned Russia’s central bank, oligarchs, and politicians, including President Vladimir Putin, and prohibited several Russian institutions from using the SWIFT international payments system.

The sanctions packages have proven to be “very successful,” according to French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

“We’re launching a full-fledged economic and financial war on Russia,” Le Maire said on France Info radio. “We will bring the Russian economy to its knees.”

Le Maire later told French news agency AFP he had misspoken and that the term “war” was not compatible with France’s efforts to de-escalate tensions surrounding the Ukraine conflict.

“We are not in a battle against the Russian people,” the minister added.

In a matter of weeks, Russia has turned from a lucrative bet on surging oil prices to an uninventable market with a central bank hamstrung by sanctions, major banks shut out of the international payments system and capital controls choking off money flows.

On Tuesday, Russia said it was placing temporary curbs on foreigners seeking to exit Russian assets, putting the brakes on an accelerating investor exodus driven by the sanctions.

Le Maire’s initial remarks drew an angry riposte from Russia’s former president and prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, who is now the deputy Chair of the Security Council of the Russian Federation.

“Watch your tongue, gentlemen! And don’t forget that in human history, economic wars quite often turned into real ones,” Medvedev tweeted.

  • Reuters