In response to its invasion of Ukraine, Russia is being cancelled on an unprecedented scale by Western businesses and other organizations. By now, Russian consumers can no longer enjoy a Netflix movie, get a new couch from Ikea get a fresh pair of Levi’s jeans. Pressure is mounting on other brands to close their shops as well. While this collective action reflects a sense of Western unity and determination, it also shows the extent to which these companies – and artists, sports organizations and NGOs alike – have learned how to respond to any kind of controversy. In many ways this is a good thing. Business and sports know they can no longer hide behind a neoliberal veil of neutrality; they are part of society and everything they do is, by definition, also a political act.
However, there also a risk that this cancellation backfires. While governmental sanctions seek to hit Russian leadership first and foremost, these corporate decisions ‘hit’ the average Russian instead. As a result, these decisions can easily be interpreted as a form of cultural warfare aimed against innocent Russian civilians. Not only will this create much anger among Russians, it also reduces our abilities to exert soft power over Russia. That is, for some Russians at least, Western brands and pop culture used to portray a desirable image of the ‘free world’. With the ongoing cancellation of Russia, we risk losing this valuable antidote to Russian propaganda.