The West and the Boomerang of Anti-Russian Sanctions: Who’s “Committing Economic Suicide”?


Western leaders’ attempts to create the illusion that everyone approves of the idea of imposing sanctions against Russia is coming up against the obvious discrepancy between this made-up picture and the real state of affairs. There are many both in the U.S. and in Europe who consider imposing sanctions to be a mistake, and in Asian countries and in Africa there is no support whatsoever for the Western sanctions against Russia on the state level or among the public.

First and foremost, European countries are not eager to pay for Ukraine’s problems out of their coffers. The dispute over the sanctions has become an apple of discord within the European Union. While the Brussels bureaucracy has supported imposing sanctions, several national governments have expressed different opinions on the matter. Polish Ambassador to Ukraine H. Litwin, for example, stated: «There are entire sectors of the Polish economy which have very strong ties with Russia, and without these ties Poland will have serious difficulties. And this is a great threat for the economy of European countries as well». 

The topic of sanctions against Russia sparked an exchange of barbed remarks between Great Britain and France. The former has accused the latter of not acting harshly enough on the issue of sanctions against Russia. For example, it did not make the decision to refuse to sell Russia two helicopter carriers and continues to prepare them for delivery. In response, French Foreign Minister L. Fabius suggested that Great Britain set an example by freezing the multibillion assets of Russian oligarchs in London.

While in words Germany was more decisive than others in advocating sanctions, in deeds it has confined itself to a very narrow range of them, since Berlin was unable to object to the German industrialists who demanded that the government come to its senses and not make difficulties for the thousands of German firms which work with Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Berlin, advocated resolving the crisis in Ukraine by political means without imposing economic sanctions against Russia. «I am not interested in escalation; on the contrary, I am working on de-escalating the situation»said Merkel.

Political scientist C. Bambery gave the following assessment of the situation:

«Great Britain does not want to impose sanctions, as the economies of both countries would suffer from them. The French do not support this idea either, nor does Angela Merkel. Thus, the three largest economies of Europe do not want to impose sanctions against Russia. The U.S. could, of course, do it, but Europe plays a more important role here, as it is Russia’s largest trade partner. And if the Europeans do not support imposing sanctions, it is unlikely that anything will happen».

Some European countries which are against imposing sanctions but are not prepared to openly oppose Brussels have taken their own route. For example, Bulgaria, Latvia and Cyprus have demanded monetary compensation from Brussels for a boycott of Moscow. It is obvious that the European Union does not have a lot of money now and that no one will agree to such compensation.

And in some European countries, for example, the Czech Republic, members of parliament have stated plainly that they do not support imposing sanctions against Russia for its policy with regard to Ukraine.

In Asia the idea of imposing sanctions against Russia has encountered an even more decisive rebuff. India has stated unambiguously that it opposes sanctions against Russia: first, Delhi does not consider sanctions a foreign policy tool, and second, it acknowledges that Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine.

On March 25 at the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague, the BRICS foreign ministers officially confirmed their commitment to such an approach: «The escalation of hostile language, sanctions and counter-sanctions, and force does not contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution, according to international law, including the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter».


Committing Economic Suicide


The leaders of African countries hold a similar position.

Japan is inclined toward this position as well.

According to a public opinion poll conducted by the research center of the leading business newspaper Nikkei and the television channel TV Tokyo, 52% of those surveyed believe that Japan should «take its own diplomatic line» in connection with events in Ukraine. And still earlier, on March 7, Japanese Foreign Minister F. Kishida stated that «Japan will not impose sanctions against Russia, but will make decisions based on the further development of the situation, keeping a close watch on the reactions of other countries».

China does not intend to «play at sanctions» or play up to anyone in this game either. On March 17 Shi Mingde, the ambassador of the PRC to Germany, stated: «Sanctions could lead to retaliatory measures and start a spiral of unpredictable consequences. We do not see any prerequisites for the imposing of sanctions».

As to the U.S., far from everyone there is thrilled with Obama’s initiative.

The American business community has launched a fairly active campaign to prevent the White House from making decisions which will harm the American economy. The businessmen’s logic is simple and understandable: Economic sanctions «could limit possibilities for Americans to conduct business in a country with the eighth largest economy in the world». 

Harvard professor Richard Pipes, a specialist on Russian history, gave a very sound assessment of the senselessness of the United States imposing sanctions against Russia: «When we speak of sanctions with regard to such a large country as Russia, whose economy is tightly intertwined with the economies of all the world’s leading countries, sanctions look more like an absurdity than a real tool, as Russia has no less powerful means to respond».

And most importantly, says Pipes, imposing sanctions on Russia will do absolutely nothing to help Ukraine, whose problems are much more systemic in nature than simply «the loss of the Crimea». The West is simply complicating its relations with Russia with no benefit for itself and reducing opportunities to seek a compromise with Russia on other issues.  And preserving such opportunities is of great significance for the West.

On March 26, U.S. State Department spokeswoman М. Harf expressed the hope that «the conflict in Ukraine» would not affect the work Washington and Moscow were doing together on the Syrian issue. However, it is clear that this hope is justified only to the extent that the White House does not decide on a confrontation with Russia in seeking a way out of the Ukrainian crisis.

Most likely, the West will lift the sanctions imposed on Russia in the near future without any fuss. On the one hand, this will enable Western politicians to heed the concerns of their own financial and industrial circles, and on the other hand, it will allow them to save face.

Although it must be said that they have already received a slap in this «face»: The reaction to the re-unification of Crimea with Russia showed, first, the hypocrisy and double standards of the West with regard to the rest of the world, and second, the limited possibility of influencing world politics using ultimatums and blackmail.

Both of these will have far-reaching consequences.


Boris NOVOSELTSEV | Strategic Culture Foundation

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