At the Free Market Road Show in Blagoevgrad, the main topic of the event was the Russia-Ukraine war, which at that time was in the early stages. And the question that the speaker was tasked to answer was a hard one, that is, how should the Western democracies respond to the invasion of Ukraine? A tough question that doesn’t have a single answer. And since Russia was not able to conquer Ukraine quickly and parade its army in Kyiv, the question got seriously complicated. After all, although Russia is far from a democracy, not everybody wants to send their children to die in a futile war in 2022, which has no clear goal nor clear reasons for starting it in the first place. Thus, even though you could find different nuances between Momtchil Karpouzanov, Lawrence Reed, Nikos Sotirakopoulos, and Ilya Levine, one thing they all agreed on was a simple notion that war is bad, no matter who starts it. It destroys what we have been creating and fostering for ages. And although something has to be done, including government action, what exactly and how involved should the western governments be is where the swords’ clashed. Still, that “something has to be done” that the speakers agreed on were the measures that would starve the Russian war machine and shake the foundation of Putin’s power.
In the early stages of the war, international businesses acted in almost unison by pulling out of Russia, which in effect meant a full-scale boycott. The task of the second panel was to answer whether international businesses should boycott Russia, and if not, coming back again, what is that “something” that has to be done? The great thing about the Free Market Road Show is that it doesn’t foster groupthink and this panel was a great example of that. Again, there is not a cookie-cutter answer to such questions and Nikos Sotirakopoulos emphasized that the West has been more than friendly to Russia ever since the fall of communism and the dissolution of the USSR. And yes, when they didn’t manage to transition into a democratic nation that values the same values that the West cherishes, then let them sit alone at the table. You don’t buy their gas and natural resources, and products, and you don’t sell anything to them. You say No! to bullies. On the other hand, Simon Sarevski made it clear that, unlike the Cuban embargo, what has happened in Russia is a private big business embargo. However, although it is private, it doesn’t change the fact that embargos don’t necessarily work. Furthermore, you alienate the workers that have lost their job, who will not blame the action of their government for them losing their jobs. And when the war ends, no matter who wins, those that lost their jobs due to the boycott will not cherish the Western values. Thus, although there might not be a good response to the war, boycotting will not only not achieve the desired ends, but it will most likely prompt more Western disdain.