It is not true that the sanctions against Russia are ineffective

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Footage of a rocket launch is abused as evidence that the sanctions against Russia are ineffective. The footage is real, but the accompanying description is misleading. It gives the impression that Russia, despite sanctions, is undertaking expensive and complex projects, without disclosing that this rocket model is about two decades old and not the latest technology, while the sanctions seem to have been quite effective, especially on the state-owned corporation Роскосмос (Roscosmos), that deals with space projects, and on Гаспром (Gazprom), that recorded the highest loss rates last year. It might be an exaggeration to state that the sanctions destroyed the Russian economy entirely, but to claim the sanctions are ineffective would not be true


A post on the social network Facebook is presenting a video clip with the following description: 

#Russia just launched military rocket Z into space! #Sanctions?

According to the clip logo, it originates from the Russian newspaper Известия (Izvestia), but the post we are fact-checking has introductory frames of 2-3 seconds that are absent in the original. It could have been edited, but the footage is real, and the problem concerned is not in the clip. 

The problem lies in the description, in both the Macedonian and English versions. The English part is most probably directly copied from a foreign source such as the one here, without researching the written text, and then translated into Macedonian. The description leaves the impression that the sanctions against Russia are ineffective and that Russia is implementing expensive and complex projects without any problems, but it does not reveal some key facts. 

The footage shows the launch of the rocket Sojuz-2.1b (Russian Союз-2.1б) from the cosmodrome Plesetsk in Russia on 17.5.2024. This model was launched for the first time on 27.12.2006, so it is not the latest state of technology that Russia managed to develop under sanctions, but something almost two decades old. This was covered by the most powerful Russian News Agency TASS, which also added that Sojuz-2.1b is one of the multiple improvements of Sojuz-2, created in the 1990s based on Sojuz-U, which has been in use since 1973. 

The post fact-checked mentions some “rocket Z”, but that is not its name. The post was probably referring to the tag that the Russian aggressor is using in Ukraine, imprinted on the rocket. The post stresses that as though it was something sensational, but such a rocket was already launched on 22.3.2022. 

The rocket in the post is described as military, but for the sake of clarity, it does not serve for aiming hostile targets, but it is a carrier of equipment and satellites for scientific, research, communication purposes, and even military tasks in space. In this case, the launch was for the needs of the Russian Defence Ministry, specifically for its military-space forces, while the USA deems that the act concerned was sending into space an anti-satellite weapon. Be as it may, the rocket is not military although in this case it was used for military tasks. 

The fact that Russia is launching rockets does not mean that it does not suffer damages from the sanctions. It might be an exaggeration to state that the sanctions destroyed the Russian economy entirely, but to claim the sanctions are ineffective would not be true. A great loss-maker due to the sanctions is Roscosmos, a Russian state-owned corporation dealing with space projects. 

In 2021, its losses were approximately 31 billion Russian rubles (approximately 407 million US dollars), while in 2022, 50 billion rubles (approximately 730 million dollars). Last year, the Director of the corporation, Yury Borisov, stated that, mildly put, in the Russian cosmos activity everything is not well and it is in a poor financial and human resource state and that it is becoming obsolete. Towards the end of the year, he added that Roscosmos had contracts with foreign partners worth 230 billion rubles (approximately 2,5 billion dollars), but around 80 percent discontinued the cooperation. Therefore the loss was 180 billion rubles (approximately 1.9 billion dollars). Eventually, Roscosmos started to sell out its business premises and some of the holiday resorts it owned. 

Something similar happened to the Russian gas company Gazprom, that last year had a record loss, for the first time after 1998, of 629 billion rubles (approximately 6.9 billion dollars). Record loss was experienced by the second largest bank in Russia, “ВТБ” (VTB) in 2022. 

Additionally, the sanctions also hit the Russian air transport. Access to many foreign destinations was barred resulting in great losses; the aircraft were not offered service and spare parts thereby making them dangerous; while the foreign companies leasing the aircraft demanded them back. Russian air transport almost collapsed since most of the aircraft are foreign and leased, and the company is kept alive with lucrative actions and (semi)criminal schemes: seizure of leased aircraft, after which some of them were bought back; cannibalization of parts (their extraction from one aircraft and installing them in the next) or using unoriginal parts; smuggled parts through third countries; etc. Similar behavior is demanded by the Russian armed forces – due to the sanctions, they do not have any longer free access to Western technology, especially microchips. 

Considering all of the above-noted facts, the conclusion is that the fact-checked post contains many ambiguities and keeps silent specific facts thereby depriving the public of the complete outlook of the event. In other words, the post suffers from a lack of context.