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Russia using its massive gold stockpiles to skirt sanctions

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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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The United States and the European Union continue to impose harsh sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and there are signs the sanctions are slowly working. With lower oil and gas revenues and higher spending due to its war in Ukraine, Russia, for the first time, sold gold from its National Wealth Fund to cover its increasing deficit.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explains how Russia is using its stockpiles of gold to fund its expenses and skirt international sanctions.

Excerpted from Peter’s Mar. 6 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

The Russians are taking a page from the Iranians by using gold to avoid the sanctions imposed on the euro and USD. But before we look at how the Europeans are trying to disrupt their gold usage, we must understand why gold makes sense for Russia.

First off, Russia is a top producer of gold…it’s got stockpiles of the stuff. Smuggling it is also relatively easy, thanks to it being so value dense. But gold and Russia go hand in hand because they’ve got gold in almost every form: gold bullion, partially processed gold, and the important one to note – gold concessions.

The Europeans are desperate to interfere with Russian trade activity, and imposing sanctions on their gold concessions might be the only way. The problem with this plan is the Wagner Group is the one getting paid in concessions…and if you come for Wagner – you can bet they’ll be coming for you.

Hey, everybody, Peter Zion here coming to you once again from Colorado. You may have noticed in the news of late that the Europeans are starting to find, how shall I call this a non standard ways of targeting non standard ways that the Russians are using to get around sanctions in various forms.
And the issue of the day happens to be gold. So one of the many, many ways that you can avoid sanctions that deal with either the euro or the dollar is to physically trade in gold, like you physically fly it to a location to pay for goods or services. And the Russians are taking a page from the Iranians who have been doing this for years. The big difference here is scale. Russia is a much larger country with a much larger economy. And unlike Iran, it is actually a producer of gold. And for the Russians, this is a pretty good trick. So gold because it is so dense in terms of its value is relatively easy to hide or smuggle. So according to official statistics, Russia is the world’s third largest producer. But their production statistics are a state secret, they only share what they want to there’s no auditing. And so that’s undoubtedly higher, they’re almost certainly the number one. In addition, Russia has a state reserve of gold bullion, that is a complete state secret that we don’t know how big it is. So they’re probably the world’s largest holder of gold. In addition, there is a state reserve of partially processed gold that is not in full bullion form, but could be with not too much difficulty. So if the Russians ever felt that they needed a few extra 10s, or maybe even hundreds of billions of dollars of gold, it probably wouldn’t be a big stretch for them. In addition, and this is where the Europeans come in. Russia likes to accept services for Wagner, that’s their paramilitary combat group that they used to basically crush opponents in foreign countries. Basically, you get a dictatorial government somewhere most likely in Africa, but contracts for Wagner to come in and like destroy the opposition. It’s very similar to what a lot of African countries do with the Angolans and their ninja group. But they’d like to get paid not just in gold, but in gold concessions. And all of these bulk concessions that the Russians or Russian groups operate around the world are also state secrets. And so we don’t have that data either. So at the end of the day, the Russians literally just take a plane and fly the gold somewhere to pay for, say imports of products that are sanctions.
And if this sounds a little weird, and a little fantastical, keep in mind that Russia is a really big place. And a lot of high end stuff is already transported by air. And in the case of the gold mines, they’re almost exclusively in North Eastern Siberia, the least populated part of the country. And the mines themselves typically are not on a road or rail network. So they’re bullion has to get flown to Moscow anyway. So it’s pretty easy for the Russians just to divert one or two of their own planes loaded up with a few million $2 billion with a Boolean, and fly it to say China or Iran or wherever else in order to pay for services. no easy way around this unless you decide to go after those international concessions themselves to problems with that, first of all, you’re targeting Wagner, so there might be a fight on your hand. And second, Wagner doesn’t go into countries where it’s not invited. So you’re talking about having to flip the views of a hostile probably dictatorial and maybe even borderline genocidal government in order to get at Wagner. These are not things that are easily done, but if you’re gonna go after the Gold Trail, that’s really the only way to do it. Okay, that’s it for me. See you guys next time.

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