…hitched a ride on a monkey’s back;
headed west into the black,
I’m goin’ to dizz knee land
DaDa, from “Dizz Knee Land”
There’s a certain temptation, for me at least, to view an entire people as stupid and self-centered just because their leaders so uniformly are, and I confess I struggle with it. I know Ukrainians are not stupid, know it to be a fact, as I know several personally who are well-informed, sophisticated, pragmatic and bright people; given the size of my sample pool – which I will call Ukrainians I Personally Know – they are as intelligent and perceptive as any other group. My data pool is not large, admittedly, but it’s hard to believe the smart ones I know are all that exist.
However, what are we to make of the alleged contention of Yehor Bozhok (the contortions Ukrainians go through to make sure their names do not sound Russian always crack me up, in this instance resulting in one that sounds quite a bit like the pessimistic donkey from “Winnie the Pooh”) that the world has the sanctions imposed against Russia by Washington and Brussels to thank for peace? For the reality that forces of the Russian Federation are not currently rampaging through the seas, fields and cities of the Free World?
The gospel according to Yehor (Head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SZRU) is that the west’s economic sanctions – leaning heavy on the word ‘economic’, because that is what they are – are negatively impacting President Vladimir Putin’s ability to wage war around the world, including in Ukraine. It is assumed that’s what he wants to do, more than anything, and that only the sanctions (and the might of the Ukrainian Army, of course, Geroyim Slava) hold him back.
I know, I know; I should stop reading – never mind highlighting – articles from Newsweek, which is to the last outposts of serious journalism what the Fiat 500 is to street racing. It’s a newsmagazine with no real news, instead a spinner of the news so that what’s going on in the world sounds more like what Americans wish and hope is going on in the world. Where America is still top dog, and all other nations envy it for its freedom, wealth and power. The reality is quite a bit more like this cartoon, which originally appeared in The Economist:
Anyway, the chief reason I am offering to discuss an article which originates in Newsweek is that even Newsweek cannot substantiate Yehor’s allegations, and notes in those instances that it has nothing much to go on besides his word that what he says is a fact.
The first fact he offers is that the western-imposed sanctions have cost the Russian budget “around $173 Billion” in the four years between 2014 and 2018. He says that the estimate is based on Russia’s own calculations, but does not cite where he found it. That might be helpful, as it might well have come from Novaya Gazeta, where Russia is always on the razor edge of complete collapse. Newsweek duly notes that other sources have provided lower estimates, that other analysts suggest Bozhok’s estimates are likely inflated for political purposes and the difficulty determining the loss from sanctions within the overall fall in revenues from falling oil prices. Very often western analysts simply combine all figures for reduced revenues, including debt payout and the ‘capital flight’ that occurs from foreign investments, and optimistically conclude sanctions are wreaking havoc.
They’re certainly not to anyone’s benefit, but according to a special report compiled for the UN, Europe’s losses are almost double Russia’s. Idriss Jazairy figured Europe lost $100 Billion – $3.2 Billion a month over the first three years the sanctions were in effect – to $55 Billion out of the Russian economy over the same period.
Take note that nobody disputes his figures, because UN Watch – a Geneva-based watchdog – immediately pilloried Jazairy, announcing that the Russian Federation had paid him $50,000.00 in 2016 for his mandate. UN Watch said it found it ‘incredible’ that the report suggested the Russian government was a victim of human rights violations, had a brief spastic episode over the fact that Jazairy had compiled an entire report on the Russian dispute with Ukraine without mentioning the words “occupied territory”, and noted bitterly that as members of the UN Security Council, countries like Venezuela, Cuba and China had “been able to influence the appointment of experts friendly to their regimes.”
Now, you could probably do a whole post all on its own about how the western heavyweights like the United States and the bigger players in the EU have been able to influence the appointments of various players friendly to their regimes. US President Donald Trump just got through appointing US Treasury Department official David Malpass to head the World Bank; Malpass is the former chief economist of Bear Stearns, the investment bank which went from outwardly healthy to practically insolvent in 72 hours and touched off the global financial crisis. One of his first official actions upon taking up his appointment – which the World Bank Board will approve, as it dares not oppose the United States – will be to rein in lending to China. Why should they be able to borrow money from the World Bank? They’re a wealthy country with access to other capital markets.
Maybe this would be a good place to interject that the United States owes China $1.138 Trillion, with a “T”, and that it lent the USA money when nobody else would. The United States of America and the regime which runs it are the world’s most indebted, by a wide margin.
Be that as it may, the points of Jazairy’s report which are not disputed are the losses suffered by Europe, and those by the Russian Federation; UN Watch gets its knickers in a twist over language, and the unconscionable suggestion that Russia is a victim of human-rights violations. Which, of course, it is – the purpose of western sanctions was to make life harder for ordinary Russians so that they would blame and turn against Putin, and throw him out. That certainly worked a treat, didn’t it?
But let’s take a look at the effectiveness of economic sanctions toward curtailing Russia’s ability to wage war. In the 5 years ending 2017, Russia took delivery from its armament companies of 80 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s), 102 submarine ballistic missiles (SLBM’s), 3 Borei Class ballistic-missile submarines, 3,237 tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, over 1000 aircraft and helicopters, 150 vessels, 6 submarines and 12 Bal and Bastion coastal missile complexes. Air Defense Forces continue to receive the S-400 Triumf missile complexes ahead of schedule. While the wild fluctuations in the price of oil definitely have an effect on defense spending, the Russian defense budget is poorly understood by the west and erroneous figures reporting massive reductions continue to circulate, because they are what the west is happy to believe. The next time someone wins a war by believing what makes them happy will also be the first time. Meanwhile, and most importantly to this particular discussion, defense spending in 2018 had nothing whatever to do with sanctions beyond minor difficulties acquiring some western parts. Some western outlets rejoiced at this, as if nobody else makes flat screens.
Throughout 2018, although Russia indeed did not start any new wars, it successfully thwarted the world’s biggest military power in its regional ambitions to regime-change Bashar al-Assad out of the Syrian presidency, and turned back its proxy forces – ISIS – with only a minimal air component of never more than 40 planes. Obviously the Syrian ground forces, the SAA, deserve a great deal of the credit, but it was Russia’s entry which changed the dynamic and sent ISIS from advancing into retreat. Significantly, Russia did not enter the decidedly one-sided conflict until its military participation was invited by the democratically-elected leader of the sovereign nation, the only country other than Iran which was legally a combatant under international law. The continued American military presence in Syria remains unsolicited, unwelcome and illegal.
Russia is a member of the Normandy Four format tasked with resolving the conflict in Ukraine; significantly, the United States was not invited. It promptly appointed a special envoy, and muscled its way to the discussion table anyway – exactly the sort of behavior which would not be tolerated if it had been exercised by Russia. The point herein is that Russia increasingly plays a major role in great-power politics, rather than being put back in its box by economic sanctions. In point of fact, the sanctions have touched off a renaissance in Russian domestic food production; domestic pork production increased by 74.4% between 2014 and 2017, a market share which previously belonged to Canada and the EU. Domestic fish and seafood catches went up 61.4% – a large part of that market share once belonged to Norway. Poultry up 60%, again the EU lost out, and this time the USA, to the tune of nearly 40% of the market. Fruit and vegetables increased domestically by 36.2% and 53.9% – sorry, Poland and the Netherlands. Don’t you get it? Sanctions are not only grossly ineffective for their stated purpose, they are helping Russia increase its strength and self-reliance, and they are hurting Europe by costing it market share that will in all probability not return in the foreseeable future. Russia has learned that its ‘behavior’ will never be ‘satisfactory’ no matter what it does, and so western opinion no longer plays a significant part in its decision-making or its alliances.
Ukrainians like Yehor have learned an entirely different lesson – so long as they shout “Boo!!! Hiss!!!” every time Washington mentions Russia, they can count on staying in the news, and the money will keep rolling in without having to actually do anything to earn it.
Ordinarily, I would say western diplomacy needs a little work, but it’s way past too late for that.