Testing the West's mettle to ban Russian metal

As Vladimir Putin's brutal war in Ukraine continues, the West's mettle, or courage to carry on, is being tested.

Russia exports titanium, a rare, key metal used to make aircraft, including military aircraft.

Russia is not the only exporter, but it is currently the cheapest.  Some are resisting the call to cut off the Russian economy from the West.

The world was appalled when Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in February.  Nations everywhere vowed to punish Moscow for its senseless offensive, and the first step was to impose harsh sanctions to prevent Russia from selling its raw materials.

Of course, sanctions cut both ways.  They harm the exporting nation but also cause short-term economic pain in the importing nations.  For example, when the Western world stopped buying Russian oil, gasoline prices soared everywhere.  That is at least part of the price consumers everywhere are paying to roll back the Russian invasion: we have less access to Russian raw materials.

Not everyone agrees with the idea of imposing sanctions.  One company is actively undermining them.

European aerospace giant Airbus is eager to keep using Russian titanium.  Russia provides about half of the titanium Airbus uses, and the company has been rewarding Russian aggression for years.  After Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, for example, Airbus actually boosted the amount of Russian titanium it was buying. 

Today, despite another unprovoked invasion, Airbus is eager to keep on funding Putin by buying Russian titanium.  "Sanctions on Russian titanium would hardly harm Russia, because they only account for a small part of export revenues there.  But they would massively damage the entire aerospace industry across Europe," a spokesman told Reuters news service.

Compare that with the attitude of the European governments that support Airbus through massive subsidies. 

"The EU is expanding the list of persons and entities concerned by export restrictions regarding dual-use goods and technology," the E.U. Council announced this month.  "Moreover, the EU will expand the list of goods and technology which may contribute to the technological enhancement of Russia's defence and security sector.  This will include 80 chemicals which can be used to produce chemical weapons." 

This is the sixth round of escalating sanctions imposed by the E.U.  It is willing to accept some short-term economic pain to achieve the long-term goal of ending Russian aggression.  Perhaps it should ask its patron Airbus to do the same thing.

The United States should keep Airbus's actions in mind.  No matter how the fighting in Ukraine turns out, American policymakers need to remember that Airbus does not support our goals, so there is no reason to do deals with Airbus.

For example, Airbus is trying to earn a contract to produce refueling tanker aircraft for the U.S. Air Force.  Set aside the fact that the Air Force doesn't need the Airbus tanker, and that poorly designed.  Just focus on whether or not the federal government should reward a company that ignores economic sanctions by giving it a big military contract.  The clear answer is no.

Airbus seems to miss the irony that it is using Russian metal to build aircraft that may end up in combat against Russia.  "Defense matters not only for Airbus, but for Europe as a whole," Chairman Rene Obermann said at a shareholder meeting this spring. 

Well, yes, of course.  But sanctions are the most important tool in the defense policy toolbox right now.  By opposing them, Airbus undermines the U.S. and may end up making a shooting war more likely.  That would be disastrous for everyone, except perhaps Airbus, which could sell more weapons, including ones made with Russian titanium.

The civilized world is finding ways to make do without Russian raw materials.  Things are more expensive and difficult to obtain, but we are on the right side of history, and we will prevail. 

This is a chance for Airbus to prove its mettle.  It should stop using Russian titanium at once, find replacement sources of the metal (there are plenty to choose from), and start supporting the international sanctions necessary to stopping Putin's war machine.  The U.S. government can't even consider rewarding Airbus with any type of military contract until those things happen.

Gary S. Goldman is the nationally recognized host of Business, Politics, & Lifestyles, a weekly talk show airing on WPRO Providence, R.I.  Learn more at garyonbpl.com.

Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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