Sanctions Supervisor

It’s heartening that following yet another extension of the European sanctions, no one was greatly upset, although the cost of the matter is pretty big for Russia – about 1 percent of gross domestic product. Everyone understands that sanctions for the accession of Crimea will most likely be in place forever, while those for the Donbass will remain until the “Washington Obkom” gives the go-ahead.* But at the same time, there’s a naive delusion that Europe, whose economic losses from both the sanctions and the countermeasures adopted by the Kremlin are also great, is, deep down, on our side, and were it not for its arm having been twisted it wouldn’t have damaged its relations with Moscow. At least not for long.

The formal reason for such expectations was Italy’s minor demarche the day before the EU Council’s pre-Christmas vote on sanctions. Immediately there was talk of some kind of breach in the Euro-Atlantic union. Yet in the end, the resolution was adopted, as has been the case many times now. The sanctions were unanimously extended automatically until July 31, 2016. It then became clear that Rome’s distinct position was not at all dictated by a desire to pursue an independent policy that differed from the recommendations of Washington and Brussels, but by purely trivial considerations; why, Italy asks, has South Stream, in which Italy played a prominent role, gotten the axe in the context of the anti-Russian sanctions, while Nord Stream-2, where Germany is running the show, hasn’t?**

But apparently the EU Council clearly explained to the signori what the drivers of the European economy may do and what second-class economies may not. So the episode did not have anything to do with Russia directly. Besides, it’s not yet a fact that Nord Stream-2 will come about. It is strongly opposed by the heads of several European countries, including Andrzej Duda, Poland’s president. And although Minister of Economic Development Alexey Ulyukaev thinks that a disruption in the construction of the pipeline would amount to the European Union “shooting itself in the foot,” it’s not for him but for the EU Council to decide.

In an interview for the film “World Order,” Vladimir Putin talked about what is, in his opinion, Europe’s primary mistake, that it has willingly declined to defend its own interests, having delegated part of its sovereignty to the United States. The key word here is “willingly.” It’s an acknowledgement at the highest level that the Euro-Atlantic alliance took shape not only under America’s dictates but also in accordance with the “personal reasons” of the participating countries. You can call these reasons Russophobia or you can call them Euro-pragmatism. If we set aside sentiments about a shared historical past, there are other reasons to blame our partners for fleeing to another camp, not to a stronger one. In world politics, everything is as in an inevitable street flight: you either strike first — if you can, of course — or you hide behind the back of one who’s stronger.

This is especially true since the Europeans have learned to extract not only political but financial benefits from the sanctions and the Russophobia stirred up by the Russian threat (more hypothetical than real). We’ll leave out the Baltic states, Georgia and Ukraine, they’re stale topics. But formerly brotherly Poland! There’s perhaps no other state on the European map that is so intensely fixated on Moscow’s aggressiveness. They’ve gone so far as to invite NATO to place nuclear weapons inside their country; at least they raised the matter for discussion. But whoever believes that Warsaw has all of a sudden been stricken with McCarthyism is sorely mistaken. All this anti-Russian hysteria has banal, opportunistic overtones. Even Polish experts no longer hide the fact that in using “Moscow’s hand,” Warsaw is counting on a discount from the Pentagon for weapons and military equipment for the Polish Army. And, it would seem that Warsaw will get it, as the Poles have long been considered a commercial nation; there’s a reason the intimate term “Polish purse” has come into use around the world.***

So most likely we’ll be stuck practically all alone with the sanctions. But as experience has shown, it isn’t fatal. Iran has been under sanctions since 1979 and hasn’t died, though it hasn’t lived high on the hog off its oil and gas reserves either. Another analogous example is China. On June 4, 1989, People’s Liberation Army tanks practically flattened students who had gathered on Tiananmen Square; only according to official data, around 200 people were killed, whereas according to unofficial data, more than 1,000 were killed and upward of 7,000 injured. Amnesty International claims that participants in those events are perhaps still languishing in Chinese prisons to this day. But who remembers it, other than human rights activists? By the end of the 1990s, the sanctions, which had seemed never-ending, had already been forgotten, and so as not to irritate the Chinese leadership once again, everyone tries not to mention them. Who wants to damage relations with the world’s number one (now an ironclad fact!) economy?! Besides, China’s army is the biggest in the world, about 2.5 million troops, and thanks to Russia, armed with state-of-the-art military equipment.

The military actions in Syria, where we’ve loudly rattled our weapons, have shown that when it comes to Russia’s military might, all is in order. We just have to fix the economy because the economically weak are not too well regarded in our pragmatic world. But here we ourselves are to blame. For two decades we fought so hard against inflation that we left the real economic sector without any loans or investment. And now I wish we could announce an all-Russian competition to look for an “economic Shoigu” who could get the economy and industry in particular back on its feet in a short amount of time, as Sergei Kuzhugetovich did with the army. Otherwise we’ll never have any import substitution.

And it’s time now to give up the obsession with finding a weak link in the Euro-Atlantic union. This world order will be here for a long time. And we shouldn’t hold a grudge against Barack Obama either. In accordance with the status of the nation he heads, it’s up to him to be the sanctions supervisor.

*Translator’s note: Obkom is an abbreviation for “oblastnoy komitet,” or regional committee, a Soviet body that was tasked with advising Communist Party officials of a particular province in accordance with the party line. The pejorative phrase “Washington Obkom” refers to the notion of the existence of an analogous committee in the U.S. capital that supposedly provides pro-American guidance to leaders in the post-Soviet space.

**Editor’s note: South Stream is a former pipeline project meant to transport natural gas from Russia to Austria. Nord Stream-2 is a twin pipeline system through the Baltic Sea transporting natural gas from Russia to the EU.

***Translator’s note: The author is using a vulgar expression that apparently refers to an obscene method of smuggling contraband.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 188 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.