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Sanctions won’t save Ukraine They are a comforting illusion in a leaderless war

Naive. Credit: Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty


February 28, 2022   7 mins

Unsurprisingly, the West has decided it won’t send its sons and daughters to die for Ukraine. Instead, it hopes to cripple Russia with economic sanctions. Will such measures bring about the end of the Russian invasion? Will Vladimir Putin scuttle back to the Kremlin with his tail between his legs? It seems unlikely. As the record of international conflict shows, sanctions rarely (if ever) work.

To succeed, sanctions must not only impose economic costs — they must also change the political behaviour of target governments. Neither is at all straightforward.

As the past week has shown, designing sanctions that will harm Russia but not other European economies is fiendishly difficult. So far, only modest measures have been imposed: primarily asset freezes and exclusion from the Swift payments system for some banks; asset seizures and travel bans for some elites and oligarchs; and limits on Aeroflot flights. None of these will cripple Russia’s economy, despite fanciful claims by Western leaders.

The proposed sanctions on Russia’s central bank may cut much deeper. Exactly how far these will go is not yet clear. But freezing Russia’s overseas currency reserves will make it harder for the central bank to defend the value of the rouble, and to supply foreign exchange for commercial banks. This is unlikely to collapse the economy, as some advocates suggest, but it could have significant and far-reaching consequences, including runs on Russian banks and impediments to foreign trade.

However, it’s precisely the threat to trade that will probably lead Western governments to avoid a total freeze — limiting Russia’s access to foreign exchange, but not severing it entirely. The reason is simple: Russia is not a minor economy. Western countries, firms and banks do a lot of business with Russia. Wide-ranging sanctions will naturally have blowback. This is why tougher measures will be difficult, if not impossible, to impose.

The real “nuclear” option would be to embargo Russia’s energy exports, which comprise over half of Russia’s total exports. This would inflict serious damage. But, given that Europe relies on Russia for about a quarter of its oil and over a third of its gas, it would also spur massive inflation and induce economic recession in the West. Prices have already spiked due to the conflict, which will further harm households reeling from record-high energy prices. It’s telling, for example, that Germany has “de-certified” the Nordstream-2 pipeline, but not the pipelines through which it receives existing supplies.

Likewise, Western governments appear unable to agree on completely blocking Russia from Swift, because this would create difficulties for Russian and Western banks alike. Without Swift, how would Germany pay for Russian gas? And, if it cannot pay, would the gas keep flowing? How would the many other Western businesses working in or dealing with Russia make payments? For the same reason, although some sectors of the Russian economy, such as chemicals and automobiles, rely on imported hi-tech Western components, so far, export restrictions remain limited, for fear of damaging Western firms.

Despite their belligerent rhetoric, Western leaders are wary of creating more problems for economies already struggling to recover from the deep recessions caused by their Covid-19 lockdowns. They are quietly carving out even non-critical economic sectors, such as luxury goods and diamond exports, from the sanction regime. It is hard to avoid the impression that, having blundered into confrontation with Russia, Western governments are now realising they have very limited options, and remain reluctant to put their money where their mouths are.

However, even if the West can find ways to inflict serious economic damage on Russia, that still does not mean sanctions will “work”. To be truly effective, they must also change the Russian government’s behaviour. And this is where the logic of sanctions often breaks down. It is remarkably rare for Western policymakers to explain — or even consider — exactly how “economic pain” is supposed to translate into “political gain”. And the prospects in this particular case do not look promising.

The fundamental problem is that sanctions are based on a dubious understanding of human behaviour. They are a quintessentially liberal instrument, resting on the assumption that every man has his price: if I impose economic costs on you, you will revise the cost-benefit analysis of your course of action, and change your behaviour accordingly.

In the real world, however, many regimes and their supporters are willing to endure colossal economic costs to pursue their political and security goals. Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party regime preferred to see Iraq’s economy and society destroyed rather than relinquish power. Fidel Castro’s regime withstood a punishing US embargo for decades. Iran has suffered serious economic harm under Western sanctions without relinquishing its nuclear programme.

What are Putin’s goals in Ukraine? The Russian government has made it clear since the early Noughties that it cannot tolerate the eastward expansion of Nato, considering it a serious threat to Russian security. Its invasion of Georgia in 2008, and its attacks on Ukraine in 2014, long ago demonstrated the Kremlin’s determination to prevent neighbouring countries falling into the Western orbit, even at the cost of international isolation and punitive sanctions. One does not need to sympathise with Putin at all to recognise that Russia’s bank balance is not his primary consideration.

If Putin will not put economic costs ahead of his security goals, how else might sanctions work? Classically, comprehensive embargoes seemed to be guided by a “naïve theory” of sanctions, whereby economic suffering is expected to compel the population to rise up against their wicked leaders. But this rarely, if ever, happens. If anything, economic immiseration tends to fragment and weaken the population, who become absorbed by the struggle to subsist and more reliant on government help — as seen in Iraq.

Targeted sanctions work on an equally naĂŻve basis, assuming that political leaders and their business cronies are completely autonomous from the people, such that manipulating their personal wealth will convince them to change course. In truth, political leaders always represent some broader set of forces in their regime and wider society. Their policies reflect that underlying coalition. If they change course, they will have to answer to their supporters.

Vladimir Putin is a powerful and quasi-authoritarian leader, but he is not autonomous from Russian society. His rise reflects a broadly-based nationalist backlash against the consequences of neoliberal “shock therapy” practised on Russia by the International Monetary Fund after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the pro-Western President Yeltsin, the public wealth built up under communism was pillaged by oligarchs, while the Russian people suffered astonishing levels of deprivation. In the decade to 1998, GDP fell by 45%, mortality increased by 50%, government revenues had nearly halved, and crime had doubled.

Putin rose to power by promising to halt and reverse Russia’s national decline. In his first seven years in office, real wages doubled (albeit from a low base). Using soaring oil revenues, Putin stabilised the economy and paid off foreign debt, reasserting Russia’s sovereignty. He brought the oligarchs to heel, jailing or exiling anyone who would not recognise the state’s supremacy. And he restored stability and a measure of national pride to an exhausted and demoralised people. His regime, centred on a network of siloviki (security and military officials) and managers of state-owned enterprises, has proven politically robust and durable — a state within the state.

This is important not to praise or exonerate Putin, but to understand why his popularity has remained high, even under sanctions. Experimental research suggests that Russia’s economic decline since 2014 — mostly caused by declining oil prices, though compounded by sanctions — has cost Putin some support. But it has been more than compensated for by an upsurge in nationalist backing. Putin’s approval rating increased from 65% in January 2014 to 86% in April 2014, following the annexation of Crimea. It remained above 80% for the next two years before returning to the high 60s.

Today, a large majority of Russians blame the West for the crisis in Ukraine, while two-thirds have little or no concern about sanctions. Putin’s regime may have persecuted opposition figures, curbed dissent, and restricted electoral competition — but, despite such authoritarian measures, he retains widespread support. Western leaders could only dream of his approval ratings: support for Biden stands at 42%, for Macron, 40%, and, for Boris Johnson, just 25%.

Nor is there much sign of political fracture within the regime that sanctions could exploit. Putin’s ability to publicly humiliate his spy chief, who bodged his lines at the televised, stage-managed security council meeting prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, suggests he feels secure and confident. The overwhelming vote in the Duma of 400 to zero in favour of recognising the breakaway “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk suggests either broad elite consensus or an unwillingness to openly defy the Kremlin. Exactly how the (modest) economic pain caused by sanctions is meant to generate political gain is therefore hard to discern.

All too often, sanctions are a comforting but dangerous illusion: they are alluring because they seem to provide an effective option between war and words. When diplomacy seems to fail, and states are unwilling to risk war, something else is needed — and that something is sanctions. But just because something must be done does not mean that this “something” is going to work. Moreover, it is all too easy to forget that embargoes are a weapon of war, often devastating target populations and escalating conflicts, rather than peacefully resolving them. In response to the latest sanctions, Putin has put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert. It seems unlikely that he would deploy them in response to banking sanctions. But this is a reminder of that the stakes are incredibly high.

Ultimately, even if sanctions do bite, we need to ask: what is the endgame? Sanctions are at best a means to an end, and surely the desired end is lasting peace in Eastern Europe. And one does not need to have any sympathy whatsoever with the Putin regime to believe that this can only be achieved by reckoning with core Russian interests.

Like it or not, powerful states have the capacity to inflict serious harm on weaker ones — just ask the Serbs, Libyans, Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians on the receiving end of the Nato powers’ tender mercies. If Russia is dissatisfied, it clearly has the power to upset the existing order by force. The only way to prevent this is to compromise with Russia’s concerns, or deploy overwhelming force to deter it from using its military power. The West has done neither, dismissing Putin’s demands to establish a neutral buffer zone between Russia and Nato, while failing to deter him from using force to achieve his objectives.

The only way out of this disaster is a negotiated settlement, which will require Nato to reckon with Russian interests, and preserve Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty within a framework of international neutrality. For the brutal reality is this: sanctions are unlikely to force Russia out of Ukraine, and the West is unwilling to be drawn directly into battle with a nuclear-armed state. Unless a diplomatic solution can be found, sanctions are likely to be merely part of a grinding proxy war along the lines of the brutal and horrific conflict in Syria.

The people of Ukraine have already suffered too much. Sanctions won’t save them — they may only make their misery worse.


Lee Jones is Professor of Political Economy and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London.

DrLeeJones

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Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

This is an absolutely fist rate analysis of the situation and the impact or more accurately non-impact of sanctions. In applying sanctions one has to consider what the results may be to both parties, Russia and Ukraine. Further, for those talking about an insurgency it might be better to negotiate an independent but neutral Ukraine and for Nato to back off its eastward expansion, rather than extend a simmering conflict with accompanying loss of life for years.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Really? It’s already past it’s sell by date in its forecasts.
In any case no one expects sanctions to stop Putin. But it’s been a great excuse to completely disable his economy and international standing – which will stand us in good stead for the long term, despite any economic losses and sacrifices.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Best be careful what you wish for. In 1918 we effectively hobbled the economy of the defeated Germans. What did we get as a result? WWII. In 1945 we leaned our lesson, and instead provide aid through the Marshall Plan to rebuild Germany and welcome West Germany into the family of western nations. Worked out better didn’t it. Treating Russia, following the fall of the Soviet Union as an enemy and bogeyman, especially so after the last 6 years of “Russia, Russia, Russia….” in Washington DC is not only not helpful but counterproductive.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I’d agree, except who is to say Russia even wanted that?? They are a proud people who were humiliated by the collapse of the USSR. I can’t imagine they’d accept a patronising hand out from the West willingly.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

That thesis has been comprehensive debunked, particularly by German historians such as Franz Fischer. The Versailles Treaty was not particularly onerous, and ultimately only partially imposed, and was less so than the reparations imposed by the Prussians in France in 1870. It was the failure to completely – and visibly – to everyone – to defeat Germany that led to the paranoid and utterly false ‘stab in the back’ myth. The belief (or pretended belief) in this myth by extreme Right wing revanchist forces ultimately destroyed the prospect of peace. (This was one reason the Allies demanded ‘unconditional surrender’, at great cost to themselves, in World War Two).

Economic collapse of course also played a major part in the rise of the Nazis, but that was largely the result of the Wall Street Crash and the poor international response to that event. Yes, there were more enlightened policies carried out after the Second World War than the First. However we should recall that the US was by then a wealthy military and economic superpower, in a way that the victors of the first war simply were not.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Russia was certainly not treated as an enemy and bogeyman after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s or early 2000s. Not by the West at least (Eastern Europe did have their understandable reasons for caution and preference for safety and distance).

The West was all smiles and happy to send out their economic snake charmers, only for them to be out-charmed by the Russian proto-oligarchs who had dominated the late-Soviet grey markets at the fringes of the rotting planned economy and were well-positioned for the race. US econ wunderkinder with their wild reform ideas perhaps gave their face to the soon to escalate loot-and-shoot free market, but credit where it’s due, the Russians knew the game from the bottom up, and they knew it well. I mean, do you know any oligarch who wasn’t ex-Soviet? Not saying it was a pretty time or that, say, the tourism there wasn’t often just a real-life wild-east adventure for middle-aged American frat boys hunting for cheap money, sex and narcotics. These are things that do create some resentment in the natives against the foreigners. But blaming just them? It’s too easy, and the foreigners should not take the blame too easy either.

Last edited 2 years ago by Henri Juhani
RD Richards
RD Richards
2 years ago

“The only way out of this disaster is a negotiated settlement, which will require NATO to reckon with Russian interests, and preserve Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty within a framework of international neutrality. For the brutal reality is this: sanctions are unlikely to force Russia out of Ukraine, and the West is unwilling to be drawn directly into battle with a nuclear-armed state. Unless a diplomatic solution can be found, sanctions are likely to be merely part of a grinding proxy war along the lines of the brutal and horrific conflict in Syria.”
This is the smartest, most realistic analysis of the Ukraine situation that I have seen. Thanks Lee.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  RD Richards

It’s a possible solution, but think of the implications of such a settlement too. Putin has applied brute force in Ukraine and the problem is solved by giving him at least a bit of what he wants. In the short to medium term, things might calm down and you might say “yes – the objective of achieving peace in Europe has been achieved”.
But once that precedent is set, where might Putin look next? A quick invasion of one of the Baltic states, followed by a similarly panicked settlement which compromises their sovereignty in some way? Where does it stop?

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Putin is going to get most of what he wants – one way, or another. It’s a shrewd, well-timed move. What is the logic of him attacking Rumania or Poland ?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

There’s not much logic in his attack on Ukraine!

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

This was the most ill-timed invasion in history.
No sane commander leaves his armoured forces out in the middle of winter for two whole months. The troops begin to sicken, and maintenance is impossible. This February was also the time of year when the ground is too soft and wet for armour. Global warming and Russian incompetence had the most to do with the slow pace of his troops up til now.
The idiot only did this to time it with the 8th anniversary of the success of Maidan. As with Sochi, there was also the Olympics.
This is a man who has failed in everything since 2014–and wants to gain it all back by one roll of the dice.
Don’t consult Clausweitz.
Consult Dostoevsky’s The Gambler.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

If I’m not mistaken the other baltic states are part of Nato and that goes with that little pesky clause known as Article 5. That’s a risk Putin would not take. He’s not stupid.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Doesn’t that indicate that Ukraine would have been much better off IN NATO? Either that or retaining its nuclear weapons! Or both.

Putin knows NATO is not an aggressive organisation so that is largely an excuse for his hegemonic aims.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

No he is not
..he is just plain and certified mental

Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Then again Finland and Sweden are not in Nato (not yet at least). So if this were the precedent we’d give him for imposing power and force on non-Nato neighbours, would you still be willing to throw Finland and Sweden to the wolves?

My god, the arrogance.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Brute force? By all accounts he is using a fraction of his manpower and firepower and taken heavier losses. If he wanted to carpetbomb Ukraine to the Stone Age he could. So why hasn’t he?!

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

The indecision of a cautious man who’s just made the only incautious move of his presidency.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  RD Richards

IOW, Munich.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Yea, well, you did not go into the big thing – Sanctions should not harm the one making them. The Idiot Trudeau passed Martial Law to crush a few hundred, peaceful, nice, hard working, protestors. He used a sledge hammer to crack an egg, which got splattered everywhere. One thing he got in this freedom grab was he made the State able to seize Anyone’s Bank Accounts with no courts. This really woke the Right up – that a country may just freeze ones money – wow, you are as enslaved if they lock your finance – and so he created a distrust of Banks…

“So far, only modest measures have been imposed: primarily asset freezes and exclusion from the Swift payments system for some banks;”

MODEST??? SWIFT is how most of the world buys, sells, makes payments. If it is something which can just be switched on and off, how is any nation to trust it? Like the Canadian Truckers, you can be shut down, go broke, not pay bills, not get paid – on Trudeau’s whim. People are going to look for ways to work around that. SWIFT is very important at keeping the USA $ as the Global Reserve Currency, and USA is harmed greatly if it loses that.

And so will the world doubt SWIFT if it can be turned on and off on a whim… they will come up with an alternate system, Like China is doing. Keeping the US $ as the World Reserve Currency it is vital SWIFT remain – so it needs to remain trusted.

“SWIFT and the Weaponization of the U.S. DollarThe U.S. has used the system as a stick before. Continuing down this path could trigger de-dollarization and an ensuing currency crisis.”

AND

“China’s Cross-Border International Payments System (CIPS), founded in 2015, is still under development and includes only 80 foreign banks. But there is no reason in principle that CIPS can’t substitute for SWIFT.”

This is serious stuff….

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yes, but not by you. More outraged by Justin Trudeau than by Putin. How nauseating it is to listen to this endlessly repeated conspiracy garbage while people actually ARE being killed in their thousands by a real dictatorial regime.

Art C
Art C
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

It is beyond nauseating to hear people still trotting out the “conspiracy” accusation as a knee-jerk response when they are incapable of responding intelligently with reason. The covid fraud which was sustained by this practice for nearly 2 years is dead! And of course, in the final analysis, the “conspiracy theorists” were right.
As nauseating is the synthetic outrage of keyboard warriors who have suddenly discovered Ukraine on their feed (but not Yemen, Afghanistan etc.). The problem with people who are suddenly “outraged” by events like this is that they are so thoroughly detached from reality that with the right dose of (dare I say it) misinformation they can be made to believe anything. The fact is, Putin always was a thug. And he has been telegraphing his intentions brutally and out in the open for 20 years. Pusillaninous Western leaders should have drawn a solid, hard red line against Putin 20 years ago. Instead, they chose to look the other way, do business with him and even praise him. More recent leaders chose to simply ignore Putin to concentrate on “social justice”. To the boy tyrant Trudeau, leadership meant posturing: showing “understanding” for people tearing down statues & burning churches in his own country; cheering on mass internet censorship, smearing everyone who disagreed with him as racists & white supremacists. And then last month, in a vicious act of supreme cowardice, to invoke emergency powers to run down grandmothers and peacefully barbequing truckers protesting against his insane mandates for a “vaccine” which it is now clear doesn’t work; then seizing the bank accounts of people deemed to have supported these protesters. For this to happen in a country which calls itself a democracy is indeed outrageous. As for Ukraine, what is happening now was entirely predictable: Putin was already massing forces last July. All that was needed was leadership: hard decisions & action on the ground! Not outrage after the fact.

Last edited 2 years ago by Art C
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago

The only two ways for sanctions to work are
a. If they make life extremely painful fit the population.
That’s out, thanks to the Western countries themselves: artificial energy dependency on Russia because green lunacy and because they created a Frankenstein monster called CCP China that’s now powerful enough to help Russia bust sanctions.

So, what’s option b?
Simple, the people facing sanctions must feel they are in the wrong
And here the author touches upon, but doesn’t quite connect fully the dots.

Imagine if at the height of the cold war, Texas somehow separated and joined Mexico…and then Mexico decided to join the Soviet block.
What’s happening in Ukraine, the creeping eastwards of NATO, would be as unacceptable to normal Russians.
Not just Putin, normal Russians.

And the other part of the equation is the kind of people trying to “shame” the Russians….
are the same ones who have attacked countries without reason (Iraq, Vietnam), or carried out or attempted regime changes with horrific consequences (Chile, Iran, recently in Libya / Syria)

None of those atrocities were required, those countries were never a threat.

And that’s why Putin is so popular, an ordinary Russian would have nothing but contempt and disgust for countries like US / UK and their Euro allies who are so sanctimonious when it comes to lecturing other countries, but would never contemplate charging Bush ,/ Blair for war crimes, and would award Obama a peace prize!

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE ATTACK ON UKRAINE AND THE ATTACK ON IRAQ IN 2003? ANSWER: THE ATTACK ON IRAQ WAS NOT DEFENSIVE IN NATURE.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Yes, except that your argument, essentially that one invasion justifies another, entirely ignores what the Ukrainians want. By the way, every single oblast in that nation including Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk, voted for national independence at the time of the Soviet collapse.
As for ‘green lunacy’, in the long run it will be a very good thing not to be beholden to either Russian or Middle Eastern autocrats for our energy supply, as these nations have by far the greatest oil and gas reserves.

Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Do tell us what makes you so confident speaking for “ordinary Russians”. Your ordinary Russian sounds like an aged Soviet relic connected to the outer world only via state-owned TV spewing that propaganda in all shapes and forms. The 20-35 year old Russians I know are not much different from their Ukrainian peers. They’d rather have nothing to do with this current tragedy. Some are even pro EU, or would rather study and live there at least.

The only thing they hate the UK for is being a willing treasure island for keeping safe the state funds laundered out of the systematically poverished states of Russia and Ukraine.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
2 years ago

Isn’t about time the West took it own side in an argument? As a strategy, the appeasement of Putin has been tested to destruction. The West turned a blind eye to the abuses in Chechnya (which resulted in a wholesale importation of jihadists to the West), Georgia and Ukraine. After the occupation of Ukrainian regions in 2014, Europe even increased dependence on Russia gas and dutifully turned up for the 2018 World Cup. It availed us nothing, and just emboldened Putin. Europe has security interests too. It appears that Putin intends to remove or kill the Ukrainian political elite and impose a puppet like Kuchma or Yankovych (or worse). Ukraine is already outside NATO, and is not being militarily protected by the West in any way. It is already a neutral zone, but apparently that is not enough. Nobody will want to live or invest in an occupied Ukraine with no rule of law, and with the threat of war an ever present. The security implications for Europe of a massive failed state on its doorstep are enormous, and a lot more real that Putin’s paranoid obsessions. Russia was not the only country which suffered after the fall of Communism, and is not the only successor state to the USSR, despite being treated as such by the West. The resulting dislocation was ultimately due to the collapse of a useless economic system they imposed not only on their own people, but on their neighbours. Russia has been given more than enough leeway. Perhaps sanctions will not stop Putin, but at least we’re not all queuing outside banks, watching our savings collapse in value. Supposed opinion poll findings were used as a technique to shut down debate during Covid. But to quote opinion polls from a dictatorship as evidence of anything is laughable. The markets are taking their own view on Russia’s predicament.

Last edited 2 years ago by Stephen Walshe
Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

If you want to “stop” Putin, then you have to be prepared to commit everything. Most Americans don’t care about Ukraine (they don’t know where it is).

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

It’s pretty popular just now.
Americans like causing pain to dictatorships–because they are by definition the Other. That’s why 2003 was so popular at the time.
This will probably be even more popular–with both parties.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

The occupation of eastern Ukraine by Russia is a myth. Why would Poroshenko cut off pensions and medical supplies to the Donbass if so? To impoverish those pesky Russian OAP battalions? Some 8000 civilians died from his shelling, most recently almost 1000 in late 2019, according to the OSCE reports. Have a look at the quiet flight from Ukraine over the last two or three years. 2 million left the country, to go to Poland and Russia. We all sympathise with the nations subjugated to the SU for 75 years. But that does not mean they have a free pass to behave atrociously to others.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

They were separated by outside elements who falsely claimed Kyiv was about to carry out “genocide.” The outsiders lost, so teh Russian army had to bail them out.
Donetsk has been a battleground ever since.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

Great essay. In a comment last week I wondered if and how sanctions would work against Russia and this article answers many of my questions.
Good luck to the people of Ukraine in all of this mess. I watched footage of people fleeing to Poland. So sad to see all those women and children out in the winter weather trudging along the road with their possessions in plastic bags.

Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Poor Ukrainians. Maybe you should talk some sense into them in line with the sage advice in this essay.

Like: Just give away to your empire-tripping neighbour (with Italy’s GDP) a fair chunk of your sovereignty and the right to freely determine and even publically discuss a great deal of your foreign policy. Maybe forget some human rights or some other Western nonsense, as well.

Last edited 2 years ago by Henri Juhani
Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

What a squirming amoral series of hoop jumps. Perhaps listen to a respected Russian writer? Try reading Vladimir Sorokin’s excoriating analysis in The Guardian ( it’s not behind a paywall and you don’t have to read anything else on the site!). Frankly I’m sick of this self loathing and proto fascist admiration for this deranged person. Of course we live in an ambiguous society in the West. We always have. This myth that we all have to think alike in some comforting1950s golden age ( the age when thousands of Brits were desperate to emigrate to escape a hidebound country). Just the same as old bitter Putin wanting some 1970s jolly USSR return. We change and we agonise and debate. It’s a sign of strength. Putin is now in plain sight, though with family in Finland and being quite widely read I never thought differently. As for effects- this morning Turkey closed the Bosphorus to Russian shipping. There are approx 10,000 Chinese stuck in Ukraine. One country that backs Putin- Myanmar! Finally, enough of the armchair warrior nonsense. I’ll guess that commenters are too old to fight and I’m certainly not going to sound like the old men in the cafe in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terence Fitch
Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

“a negotiated settlement, which will require Nato to reckon with Russian interests, and preserve Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty within a framework of international neutrality” – what exactly does that mean?
Negotiations have been tried and ignored ‘we do not intend to invade’. NATO has said Ukraine will not be joining it. What is Ukrainian sovereignty if breakaway regions have been officially recognised by Russia; does it mean Russia dictates the geography of Ukraine? What does neutrality mean; is that no armed forces at all?
I do not pretend to have answers but can’t see these suggestions will be solutions when we are unaware of the larger ambitions of Putin which he is bound to obfuscate.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

On the contrary, NATO said in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would join, just not yet, and refused to negotiate on that eventuality.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago

Well written, Sir ! I agree wth everything you have written, except that the settlement (which there will be) between Russia and the West will divide Ukraine in two, with the western part staying as Ukraine, and the eastern part (pls Kyiv) joining Russia. The war will last another 2-3 weeks, which will probably entail the destruction of most of Kyiv and Kharkiv, with 100,000 Ukrainian casualties and about the same on the Russian side. Putin will blame the West for the casualty level, saying that the war could have ended much sooner but for NATO. Overall, the most important impact will be the new commonality of interests between Russia and China (note: I did not say “alliance”), aimed both at self-interest and at frightening the United States and its allies. Germany will be in the firing-line – hence its sudden decision to abandon any reliance on American defence. The UK will have to decide whether it prefers rich Russian oligarchs, who can finance the Tory party, or to support the United States. Probably a bit of both, as now.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

I’m struggling to see any commonality of interest between Russia and a dominant China in the coming decades. In the real world, outside Putin’s fevered imagination, China is much more of a threat to Russia than NATO is. Stalin picked the wrong horse in 1939, and one, like China today, which despised Russians.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

You’re thinking what YOU would do in a war.
Ukrainians loathe the Russian Empire/Soviet Union in the abstract. Indeed, everyone in Ukraine under 30 has never lived in a state like Putin’s Russia. They will fight.
This will be like the war in Bosnia, except that now they have far better weapons.
And it will last for years. The Russian army is too small to occupy the entire country.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Logan
Tony Price
Tony Price
2 years ago

Sanctions alone will not bring down Putin, they are a bit like bombing of cities in WW2 strengthening civilian mettle. However failing to win the war in the Ukraine will, and it is difficult see see how Russia can successfully occupy Ukraine, which means that they will have lost.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

What we do need to do is pledge that every ruble of Putin’s Sovereign Wealth Fund that we now hold will be used to rebuild Ukraine.
A million Russians have signed a petition to halt the war. Putin wouldn’t need a 250,000-man National Guard if he was popular. We have seen no one on the streets shouting “Ukraina Nasha!” as in 2014. Both the man and the war are unpopular.
Russia has collapsed internally twice this century–more than any other European nation.
We need to go for a third time.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago

Agree, sadly. US’s sanctions against Japan led to Pearl Harbour. The EU’s sanctions against Russia in 2014 led to new trade agreements with China and other Eurasian states, and new pipelines, built very rapidly, in the Chinese way.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
2 years ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Nope – Japanese militarism and racism, which fuelled its horrific crimes against humanity in China, led to Pearl Harbour.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

The West can’t send in the military without turning this conflict into WW3. Anyone wouid think this writer wants that to happen

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

The trouble with this sort of ‘realpolitik’ analysis is, although it may have a great deal of validity, it is difficult to see why it shouldn’t have applied to the British and French dealings with the 3rd Reich. (A minority of historians do argue precisely that).

Russia has carried out an outright unprovoked invasion; designed to destroy an independent Ukraine and kill its leaders. This is exactly the same kind of aggression that most historians claim that failing to stand up to in the 1930s led eventually to a disastrous world war. In that war millions died while the stage was still set for the expansion of totalitarianism.

Instead, by this account, there is essentially nothing we can – or should – do at all, but simply succumb to a international order based entirely on naked self interest (even deluded self interest based on historical nonsense!) and force. The Russians will absorb and accept economic pain, but we must not in any circumstances.

I could be persuaded of this dark thesis, but if so, let us end the charade of the United Nations, (which is often a grotesque ly hypocritical organisation) the illusions of a ‘rule-based order’ a la Trump, and at least save ourselves a bit of cash.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Aleksandra Kovacevic
Aleksandra Kovacevic
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

‘Russia has carried out an outright unprovoked invasion; designed to destroy an independent Ukraine and kill its leaders‘. I’m sorry but not a word of this is true. You might want to read up a bit.

Andrew Langridge
Andrew Langridge
2 years ago

I tend to agree that economic sanctions will have limited effect. Putin has been planning this for years, and he is not simply going to turn tail and go home, with all the accompanying humiliation. The only chance of stopping him is if Russia’s international isolation forces an internal coup of some sort. Alternatively, Ukraine will have to make enormous concessions to prevent unacceptable casualties.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Langridge
Bruce Haycock
Bruce Haycock
2 years ago

Agree with much here but feel pessimistic about the prospect for a high quality negotiated outcome, our current bunch of Western leaders are weak with poor personal standings and naive international perspectives, there no international professional like G Bush Snr, etc

In support of another point, yes, two types of nations have a perfect track record in never waging war directly on each other – the mentioned nuclear armed status quo. And also democracies which trade more or less freely with each other.

The failed liberal democracy experiment post Soviet collapse, against a background of woefully inadequate rule of law to protect free and fair economic transactions and no historical cultural precedents of government submitting to the will of the people, the opportunity for peace through the magic combo of democracy and trade with Russia is probably gone forever

Likewise, the extraordinary leverage from the mere possession of nuclear weapons means possession of these will also go on forever

So, the question remains, how to protect the legitimate aspirations of the buffer states to rule themselves how they want and develop how they want? Does one even try or just let might win because it thinks it can

Aleksandra Kovacevic
Aleksandra Kovacevic
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Haycock

As to your last question, you might want to ask the US that. They’ve been manipulating Ukraine for a long time, Victoria Nuland comes to mind, look her up. She pretty much installed the ‘Ukrainian’ government after 2014.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

One aspect of the nuclear war discussion that’s quite intriguing – it’s flushed out the sense of self-preservation of those who often voice nihilist views.

joe hardy
joe hardy
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Agreed, and we can thank Vlad for singlehandedly ending the pandemic!

N T
N T
2 years ago

I like seizing the assets, including the yachts, the planes, the homes, the businesses of high-net-worth Russian nationals precisely because of the hope that it will cause them to cause regime change. Isn’t that the way you get regime change? Don’t the people in the inner circle have to take it back?
If only there was a ready force a nation or two over that was willing to go in and make things more difficult for the invaders.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  N T

Unfortunately, your suggestion in your last paragraph is the kind of stupidity that would likely lead to a World War. Is that what you really want. Surely, what everybody should want is a negotiated peaceful settlement where Ukraine ends up a neutral state like Finland. This would not be appeasement, and this is not 1939, and Putin is not Hitler. This is realpolitik in the real world and not one of make belief.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

‘This would not be appeasement
’ Well, State A attacks State B; we all agree to take away State B’s right to self-determination, and apologise to State A for State B’s attitude. That isn’t ‘appeasement’? What would be?

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

But it isn’t quite as simple is it. It’s not black and white. Putin has been saying for 15 years that any further move eastward by NATO in Ukraine would be regarded as a red line in the sand. Perhaps the west should have listened and taken Putin seriously rather than egging Ukraine on.
And as for Ukraine and people calling it a democracy, it is no more democratic than Russia. They are pretty much equally bad. And certainly every bit as corrupt.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

If Putin’s “peace-keeping foray” into the Ukrain gets him some real-estate then he will be emboldened to try it elsewhere. Each of the 3 “Baltic States” have large ethnic-Russian minorities in their population. Whos Next?

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Would you want to be a neutral country next to Russia particularly if you had the abundant rich farmland of Ukraine. If Russia is not stopped this time it will nibble at Ukraine until it’s all gone.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

Well Finland is also next to Russia and Finland is neutral. They were smart. Sometimes one has to live with the world as it is, not how one wishes it to be.
Incidentally, please answer the following: how do you view the US Civil War. After all, shouldn’t the southern states that seceded from the Union have been allowed self-determination? What business did the North have as to whether slavery continued or not in the seceded Southern states. So was the Civil War a war of Northern aggression as the South claims and as quite a number in the south still insist it was? Well history is written by the winners, and Lincoln is regarded as the greatest of US presidents as he “saved” the union. But how would Lincoln’s actions be regarded today? That’s the crux of the matter.
Ukraine is not England. Ukraine is the birthplace of Russian civilization dating back to Viking times. Ukraine was part of Greater Russia since Catherine the Great. Odessa, one of Ukraine’s largest cities was not only built by Catherine the Great but the inhabitants are predominantly Russian speakers (by a huge margin). So the situation with Russia and Ukraine is not black and white. There is quite a bit of nuance there. Further, there is no good guy versus bad guy in this. Ukraine was and still is one of the most corrupt countries around. And the Ukrainians have been engaged in less than brotherly love activities within their own borders. I realize that the English love o root for the underdog, and Ukraine is certainly the underdog in this conflict, but that doesn’t mean Ukraine good, Russia/Putin evil and bad. They are all pretty bad as far as I can tell.

N T
N T
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

There was no civil war until Fort Sumpter.

Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Since you’re touting your ignorance so actively in this comment thread, I thought it better to correct you regarding Finland’s neutrality. The whole concept has been pretty meaningless here for decades. Our foreign policy was based on the official principle of neutrality for the duration of the Cold War only, and doesn’t make much sense outside of it. Three months after the Soviet Union dissolved, we filed a membership application to the EU, and I guess our entry there in 1995 was the last nail in the coffin.

As for Ukraine, I find it preposterous for you to suggest a Cold War era Finnish foreign policy concept (I guess only Finlandization would have been more anachronistic) with a sinister tone to be your policy suggestion. That concept meant a limitation of our full sovereignty and was forced upon us from above as a last life line after a disastrous WW2: first the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (there’s some realpolitik for you!) and two wars where we both times escaped total invasion perhaps by sheer luck.

Last edited 2 years ago by Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Your historical lectures are as embarassing as Putin’s. You think you can just pick suitable points or sequences far in history and pretend they create some “nuance” or let alone have some relevance to the issue. Give me a break.

Here’s one: Kievan Rus was founded by the Rus’, who were basically Vikings. Ethnically and linguistically the closest folk to them would be the Icelanders, so let’s give that area to them.

And Finland, my home country should belong to either the a) Balts whose ancestors (or close enough) were here before Finnish-speakers (earlier population waves cannot be connected clearly to any modern populations), b) the Saami in the inland or the Scandinavians by the seashore for the same reason (don’t know who got here first). Or then we should be part of Sweden since we lived under their rule for the longest. Or then maybe Russia, because Lenin let us go in 1917 under duress basically, and even Stalin couldn’t right this wrong despite trying twice and then settled for your precious NEUTRALITY (meaning veto on our president and some other similar rights).

N T
N T
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

If not us, who?
If not now, when?
How far do they get to go before someone stands up and says, “Enough?”
This chicken s*** is exactly what Vladdy, and every other bully banks on – that no one will step up for the bullied and risk the fight.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  N T

And what exactly is your idea of a fight. To be vaporized in a nuclear explosion. Well good for you. It doesn’t take much. A miscalculation here, another there, and you have complete and utter disaster. It is time for the US and the UK to realize they are not the world’s policemen. And dare I say it, but Pax Britannia died many moons ago, and I suspect that Pax Americana won’t be for much longer either, given the total idiocy that is going on in Washington DC. It is really not too dissimilar from the fall of the Roman Empire.
And make no mistake, Taiwan will probably soon be taken over by China, and I predict probably within the timeframe of the current Biden administration, given the ineptitude and weakness that Biden projects. And believe it or not, and I cannot understand why, many Chinese, include many who have settled in the West and have become dual US citizens, seem to regard Taiwan as part of China and not as an independent country, and that Taiwan should be reincorporated into China. Now I can’t say I agree with them in any way, shape or form, but there isn’t too much we can do vis a vis the Chinese sphere of influence. So best not to interfere and leave well alone.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Unlike the South in the US Civil War, Ukraine has done nothing to be ashamed of. It was just sitting there, minding its own independence, minding the soulful land, (a fledgling democracy, in fact) as had been agreed to with Russia and the West back in 1994. The Ukrainians lo and behold live in 
 Ukraine. Quelle surprise!
The analogy you make, comparing the current invasion with the US Civil War, as if Putin is Lincoln, and Russia the North hauling back in the breakaway South, is completely false.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that came into existence under Lenin, broke up because it was both immoral and unrepresentative. Moreover, the eastern bloc countries had also been suppressed by the USSR. Ukraine fighting for its independence is like the American War of Independence. Ukraine is fighting back the meddling tentacles of the faraway Kremlin. Ukraine does not want to be without representation in this world. Moreover, Ukraine does not want its breakaway east from seceding. It wants to preserve its own Union, as it is its right. You might say that the retrenchment of the USSR is a re-establishment of the empire, under one figure sitting on his throne in his castle, so to speak. The British empire equivalent is the Queen who sits as the head of the Commonwealth. Such benignity is beyond the imagination of those perched in the Kremlin. You’d think, for the sake of brotherhood, the bigwigs could see something as worthwhile when compared with tearing each other apart.

Aleksandra Kovacevic
Aleksandra Kovacevic
2 years ago
Reply to  N T

It’s not ‘Vladdy’, it’s ‘Volodya’. And your view is somewhat simplistic. Ukraine has been US’s pawn for a long time now, it’s not merely a small, helpless, ‘bullied’ state. A large part of their armed forces are literal neo-nazis – LITERAL – who have been terrorising the Russian population ever since 2014. And they’ve been having an influx of jihadi’s lately, you know, the guys who like to blow up people in the West are being actively recruited to fight against Russia.

Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago

Hey, Sasha! Maybe he/she wasn’t looking for a diminutive at all, or anything endearing for your sweer Vova. Maybe he was thinking more of something like Vlad as in ‘Vlad the Impaler’, a figure surely not paling in insignificance to dear Vladimir Vladimirovich.

Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Wow, now I shudder to think where *your* kind of stupidity would lead us. You’re talking about neutrality, so I guess I should get ready to time jump into post-WW2 Stalin era Finland or thereabout. Do we get to pay the war reparations again? That would be fun!

Last edited 2 years ago by Henri Juhani
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  N T

Well, there are always elections. Coups followed by elections, followed by sending tanks in to protesting areas, that is not the Western way. Except, oh dear.

Henri Juhani
Henri Juhani
2 years ago
Reply to  N T

Nice! The first real countermeasure here that seems both effective and doable! You have my vote.