Popov: Anti-Russian Sanctions will ruin Europe first

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October 15, 2016 – 

By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ – translated by J. Arnoldski –

On October 17th, EU foreign ministers will hold a meeting which, as The Wall Street Journal reports citing European diplomatic sources, will consider the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Syria. Such would mean targeted sanctions against Russian officials and including them on the sanctions list on which the EU has put the Syrian leadership. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, the adoption of a new package of anti-Russian sanctions had been discussed earlier by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her entourage. Madame chancellor also issued public statements in which she called for Russia to be “punished” for its crimes in Syria.

Deputes from Northern Italian regions, who are currently in Crimea, have stated that sanctions policies are a tool from the 18th century. Nevertheless, the US and EU are obviously still making wide use of this tool. The policy of diplomatic restrictions and economic “punishment” is rather primitive and archaic, but is obviously still preferable to a frontal military confrontation with such a nuclear superpower as Russia. The Americans have a wealth of experience in effectively using political and economic tools to punish recalcitrant countries. An example of this is Iran, against whom a sanctions regime was in place for decades until being lifted only recently. 

The sanctions against Russia have been in place for a year and a half and are bearing fruit – but not exactly the results that the initiators of these sanctions wanted. The economic consequences of these sanctions are not benefitting Russia’s Western partners. The new strategy of substituting foreign goods with Russian-manufactured products is a case in point. 

The political results of these sanctions are also uncomfortable for the West insofar as they are deepening the anti-Western and anti-American trend in Russian politics. Tactically, it is Russia that loses from the sanctions the most. But strategically, the countries of the West, and first and foremost the European Union, are the ones that suffer the most. Hence why these sanctions can entirely accurately be called not only anti-Russian, but anti-European in nature. The countries losing the most in this regard are the main export-oriented economies of the Old World, i.e., Germany, France, Italy, and others. 

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Recently, European politicians have widely discussed the inevitability of lifting (or rather, refusal to prolong) the anti-Russian sanctions. It would seem, however, that the clash of interests between Russia and the US in Syria has given new life to the sanctions policy. Ideologically, the sanctions are justified by the supposed bombing of Syrian civilians by Russian air forces. However, the naivety of Europeans, as well as their patience, has its limits. 

People in Europe perfectly understand that only they, not the United States, are losing with sanctions against Russia. The US, for example, continues to buy rocket engines from Russia for the simple reason that it is profitable for them. Germany, the country that loses more than other EU countries from the falling trade turnover with Russia, is itself lobbying for the Nord Stream 2 project. The Germans would happily end the anti-Russian sanctions,  but they are forced to submit to rules which they are not allowed to change.

Hence why the idea of imposing new sanctions against Russia (=against European manufacturers) will be met with strong opposition at the upcoming summit of EU foreign ministers to be held on October 17th. The Americans will hardly be able to push for the introduction of new “broad” sanctions, and EU countries’ foreign ministers will try to restrict such to the makeshift alternative of “targeted” sanctions. It has already been reported that these sanctions will affect elected Russian officials whom Brussels considers responsible for Russia’s policy on Syria.

However, it is still not quite right to call these targeted sanctions “makeshift” or “ersatz.” They certainly have an important goal set before themselves. The goal of such targeted sanctions would be provoking a split in the Russian ruling elite. It is not difficult to predict that they would first and foremost hit representatives of the Russian elite’s security forces wing. The economic (liberal and pro-Western) wing has plainly welcomed “overthrowing Putin,” for which the head of the American neo-conservative National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman, recently called with naive frankness. 

It is also no coincidence that the Russian presidential administration’s recent, implicit call for Russian officials to bring their children and savings home from Western countries was sounded (and then reneged). It is precisely such a split in the elite and a betrayal by part of the ruling class that the authors of this new “targeted” sanctions project are hoping for. But, in my opinion, such will only lead to the opposite result: the patriotic and nationalist discourse of Russian politics will be strengthened. 

In a situation in which an entire country and its president are being cornered, there is no other choice. In their time, the Bolshevik internationalists headed by Stalin went through such an excruciating transformation into patriots. Perhaps we are already witnessing something similar in the example of the “Putinist” elite. 

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