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"This is for real. This is heavy."
Of Banks and Tanks
It’s banks against tanks in the Ukraine war that’s now about everything: about the courage of Kyiv, about hope holding on in a horror show, kids in the roaring hell of it. Columns of refugees heading out of Ukraine, and a forty-mile convoy of invading Russian armor on the way in. Somewhere behind the cellphone videos of this ferocious war, there’s an unseen layer we’re looking at this hour: war as it’s waged in the bank vaults where looted wealth of super-rich Russians is now frozen. The Central Bank of Russia is shut off. Russia’s economic life is held hostage. The strategic choice by the US was not to join and escalate the ground war, but to punish Putin and Russia if they chose war. And now we see how the economic arsenal works.
Extremes of cruelty and danger are combined in this war in Ukraine. We are examining them this hour with one guest who has two specialties: the battlefield and the global banking system. Adam Tooze at Columbia University is both war historian and modern economist, joining this installment of our collaboration with the Quincy Institute in a radio/podcast series we’re calling In Search of Monsters. Tooze’s daily newsletter, called Chartbook, is required reading now, covering the force of banks against tanks, so to speak. The money piece is a theater of warfare we’re not used to seeing in real time; Tooze makes it seem potentially decisive. Those sanctions that disrupt Russian banking, the freezing of Russian assets abroad – all that on top of the heroic rising of the Ukraininian people, the Molotov cocktails and street defenders of Kyiv could turn the tide.
Historian at Columbia University.