By Harry C. Blaney III
Once more President Vladimir Putin has tripled down on stupid acts which will, in the end, hurt Russia more than they will the West. This week he issued new “sanctions” and has continued his threats by massing Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. Already he has alienated Russia from a large part of the international community and harmed the Russian economy (which looks to have zero growth this year). Moreover, he faces heightened sanctions that will now have a real bite. These acts will only create fear, instability, and anger in Russia, Central Europe, and Eurasia. The “benevolent” Great Bear has shown its claws, and what the rest of the world sees as irresponsibility and reckless aggression are all counterproductive to Russia’s fundamental interests.
Last week, the European Union and United States elevated their sanctions. The new measures cut off Russia’s state-owned banks from Western markets, and prevented Russia’s defense and energy sectors from importing Western equipment. Putin and his government responded with ill-advised sanctions of their own. Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev stated that food imports (vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy) from the US, EU, Australia, Canada, and Norway would be forbidden for a year. He added that the government was considering banning Western flights to Asia from passing over Siberia. According to press reports, these sanctions cover about $1.3 billion of Russian imports from the US and approximately $15.8 billion of total Russian imports of food and related products from Europe.
The retaliatory sanctions are important for two reasons. First, they suggest that the heightened Western sanctions are doing their job: this latest Putin action seems as though it will hurt Russians more than foreigners. Second, according to this article by The Guardian, Russia is Europe’s second largest market for food and drink. And, so, the real outcome of this latest move in the trade war remains unclear. However, given Russia’s need for imported food and the comparative poverty of its economy, sanctions are likely to have a greater impact on the lives of average Russians.
The most recent Putin move shows his blind spot in assessing the real well-being of Russian citizens and economy. It reveals his wrongheaded perspective of Russian long-term interests and a faulty reading of global reactions.
So, what can be done, given this increased risk taking? The first, in my view, is to fortify Western resolve. More importantly, the affected countries must act in closer cooperation in order to minimize the economic impact of Russian sanctions. This includes offering emergency subsidies to affected farmers, and temporarily opening markets throughout North America and Europe for food products that the Russian sanctions have targeted. Let’s also remember that some of this food can go to developing countries where famine and malnutrition are key problems. Americans should not forget that we did this for Europe just after the Second World War. More than that – we did it quickly and efficiently. We can do it again if we have the courage and imagination.
The second, which we have urged earlier, is an acceleration of the development of diverse sources of secure and clean energy among the Western nations. Right now there is an immediate need for added storage facilities, pipeline capacities, and reversibility of existing pipelines. Not least, America, Canada, and others need to develop an immediate emergency capability to deliver energy supplies to Europe.
Installation of clean energy infrastructure should be an immediate priority. Indeed, we might consider expanding American wind turbine factories and air shipping them to key vulnerable European nations before the start of winter. All of this requires a level of urgency and cooperation and would serve as a symbol of Western resolve and unity.
We might even get the Republicans to agree to this, given their criticism of President Obama for what they said was an insufficient show of support for Ukraine. Now, they would have to put up or shut up! Obama might call a special session of Congress during its summer recess, and perhaps they can then take care of other neglected needs that the GOP has tried to scuttle.
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