Wednesday, August 09, 2017

"It’s always dangerous to poke an angry bear", or Why Russia Sanctions are not likely to work

This article doesn't have a date on it, I think it may have been written before the current sanctions by Congress, but the reasoning seems just a valid now:

Why Sanctions Against Russia Might Backfire
[...] Is the hope that his friends will threaten to boot him out of office if he doesn’t shape up? One analyst recently claimed that Putin could be ousted easily, arguing that his replacement might be someone like Kudrin. But this neglects an important element of what holds Putin’s networks together: the pact of KGB loyalty. Many of the targeted individuals have past employment in, or suspected connections with, the KGB or its follow-on organization, the FSB (Federal Security Service). Putin, a career KGB officer and former head of the FSB, has repeatedly shown he can use FSB methods and tradecraft to harass his opponents, for example by releasing compromising materials (kompromat) that lead to their prosecution and imprisonment. He would certainly use those skills and connections to punish anyone who defects from his own team. Since many of his associates are reputed billionaires, they can afford to lose quite a bit of money before taking the enormous personal risk of betraying Putin and his KGB friends.

And the sanctions seem almost designed to enrage Putin personally, since they hit his personal networks so closely. The hope can’t have been that this would put him in a compromising mood. Is it instead that they will provoke him toward more aggression, leading him to miscalculate and increase his ultimate losses? Russia has already backed off some of its Western food-import counter-sanctions, because Putin’s original policy underestimated Russian dependence on specialty items like lactose-free milk, seed stock and salmon produced in Europe.

But it’s always dangerous to poke an angry bear. In recent months Putin has begun to encourage a conspiracy-mongering form of anti-Western nationalism. It’s impossible to know whether he and his cronies actually believe this neo-Eurasianist ideology. But neo-Eurasian arguments fill state-sponsored Russian media, and variations of it are seeping into the writings of even mainstream diplomatic analysts in Moscow. The West is blamed for denigrating Russia throughout history as backwards and wrong-headed, denying Russia its rightful place simply because its culture is different from Europe’s. In the 1990s, the story goes, the West tried to transform Russia in its own image, denying Russia’s separate identity and stealing its resources. Neo-Eurasianism rejects Western values of democracy, liberal tolerance, and individual rights. It argues instead for the superiority of a uniquely Russian communal and statist culture.

Ukraine matters, from this point of view, because Kiev was the medieval birthplace of Russia’s unique civilization, and now Ukraine’s eastern regions form a cultural buffer against the encroaching and degenerate West. Of course the West wants to stop Putin—his actions are rolling back Western influence. The sanctions bolster Eurasianist claims that the West has always persecuted Russia. They can be portrayed as another feeble attempt to demonstrate Western superiority.

Rather than pushing Putin toward accommodation, his cronies might push him toward nationalist extremism, to ensure their own continuing relevance in this new environment that Putin himself unleashed. The tilt toward extremism is already underway. [...]
Read the whole thing, for links and more. Also, there is the energy angle:

How U.S. Sanctions Against Russia Could Backfire
[...] France and Germany—the de facto, if often irreconcilable, leaders of the European Union—illustrate how Russian energy can shape foreign policy. France may rely heavily on foreign energy, but most of its oil and natural gas comes from Algeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Libya—not Russia. France can therefore afford to be more aggressive and supportive of sanctions against Russia.

Not so with Germany, which receives 57 percent of its natural gas and 35 percent of its crude oil from Russia. Berlin must therefore tread lightly between its primary security benefactor, the U.S., and its primary source of energy, Russia.

This is one reason Germany has been such an outspoken critic of the recent U.S. sanctions, which penalize businesses in any country that collaborate or participate in joint ventures with Russian energy firms. Germany supports the construction of Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that would run through the Baltic Sea, circumventing Ukraine—the transit state through which Germany currently receives much of its energy imports. The pipeline would help to safeguard German energy procurement, since it would allow Russia to punish Ukraine by withholding shipments of natural gas without punishing countries such as Germany further downstream. [...]
The Russia hysteria has to stop. Time for the Dems to face facts about losing the election; they ran a weak candidate. It was hers to lose, and she lost it. Deal with it.

These new sanctions are being seen as the U.S. using the Russia excuse to snatch market share in European Oil and Gas markets. It's going too far, we should back off.