WAR is all about sacrifice. That much I was reminded of again sadly during my recent time in Ukraine. It never ceases to equally amaze and inspire me, the extent to which ordinary people are prepared to make extraordinary commitments in standing up for the values they hold dear.

Even as I write, the last defenders of the beleaguered city of Mariupol are fighting to the end and might all be dead by the time this column makes today’s newspaper.

In eastern Ukraine meanwhile it’s much the same story, as people there give their all in holding off the latest onslaught by Russian forces.

Talk to Ukrainians right now and there is that collective sense that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism has no place in their country. In ensuring that remains the case countless Ukrainians are unflinchingly stepping up to the plate.

Some sacrifices of course are greater than others and some are more willing to make them.

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Multinational companies don’t immediately spring to mind when one thinks of sacrifices being made for the wider good.

Certainly, arms manufacturers will be bouncing back from the economic impact of the pandemic with a spring in their step given the current levels of conflict across the world.

But then ask the average Ukrainian right now about global arms supplies and understandably you will only hear them bemoan the fact that so few of those same weapons have made it into their own hands.

There are any number of reasons of course why the delivery of arms to Ukraine has at times been sluggish, to say the least. Political differences between Western allies are the most obvious, as is fear of escalation.

But far and away the biggest reason for the slow rollout of weapons to Ukraine is because from the outset of this war and from a Western perspective at least, sanctions have been the preferred weapon of choice.

Up until recently, it’s sanctions more than anything that Western governments from Washington to London, Paris to Berlin have been most keen to deliver in support of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s war effort.

The National: In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP).

But as the talk of supplying Javelin and Starstreak missiles, Switchblade and Bayraktar TB2 drones grow, we seem to have taken our eye off the ball when it comes to those sanctions and making sure they stick.

From some quarters there is already a chorus of those questioning whether the economic hardship facing ordinary Russians is justified. They after all are not to blame for the war or atrocities perpetrated by the Kremlin, argue such voices.

Russians face harsh punishment if they protest the war and are subjected to the impact of an unrelenting propaganda machine those critical of sanctions also attest.

Sanctions too can seem like “collective punishment,” a view as someone who has covered Iraq’s various conflicts these past decades, I’m more than familiar with.

All of this is true, and from the very start of the war in Ukraine many here in the West have been at pains to point out that our gripe is not with the Russian people but with those in the Kremlin and their allies who brought about and insist on perpetuating the war.

I’d like to think that remains as true now as it did back on February 24 when Russian tanks crossed the border into Ukraine. But pressure must be brought to bear somehow, and sanctions remain an important tool in bringing that about. Unpalatable as it might be to contemplate, frankly it would be naive to think Russia should not feel some hurt at home beyond its own tragic loss of life on the battlefield.

The National: Vladimir Putin

For his part Putin insists that Western sanctions have failed, and it doesn’t help in rebuffing his claim when one realises that many multinational companies continue to pay almost 200,000 employees based in Russia despite pledges to suspend or end activities in the country.

Earlier this week, in analysis produced by the Financial Times, figures showed that among the many multinationals with Russian workers still on their payrolls are Renault, Volkswagen, Boeing, Pirelli, Ikea, Adidas, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Philip Morris.

Admittedly, under Russian law companies that have suspended operations are still obliged to pay employees. But some also appear to be doing all they can to keep things ticking over such as keeping workers on the payroll one month above the two-month redundancy payments required by Russian law or opting to transfer businesses to Russian partners helping preserve jobs after their departure.

As ever it’s a case of what some multinationals say and what they do being two very different things. To be fair there are those companies who, realising the magnitude of Russia’s invasion, human rights violations and slaughter of civilians, have chosen unequivocally to do the right thing and brought the shutters down on their operations in the country. But others it appears continue to prevaricate.

The bottom line here is that those businesses, investors, or indeed governments who continue to trade as normal with Russia and bolster its economy are choosing to run the risk of helping facilitate military actions that have led to the horrors that have surfaced in Ukraine of late. Much as those engaging in business inside Russia might say that is not their intention, the facts suggest otherwise.

So long as Russia continues to inflict harm on Ukraine it should be the duty of the West to cease economic cooperation, even if it means companies laying off people who are not themselves guilty for the war and abuses in Ukraine.

As the atrocities in places like Bucha, Mariupol and Borodianka have shown, now is not the time to soft peddle in our response.

It’s an unfortunate fact but while many Russians might oppose the war, it remains Russian taxpayers who pay for the shells, missiles, and tanks, and many within the country do support what is happening in Ukraine wilfully or innocently.

If sanctions are to help stop the war or at least make the Kremlin think again, then they must be real, effective, and above all sustained and comprehensive. Let’s not allow those multinationals or others inclined to scent a long-term return to undermine this by easing up on economic sanctions and by default, Putin’s regime. With Ukrainians making the ultimate sacrifice, it’s the very least we can do.