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The “Mother Of All Sanctions” Aimed At Russia Is Not A Sustainable Way Forward For Anyone

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 21, 2022. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 21, 2022. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

When the “mother of all sanctions” is written up and entirely devised and applied by the United States Congress, in communication with the White House, it will hang over Russia as a spectre of economic isolation, with all of the consequences that go along with such an action. It continues still to be shaped and developed at the time this essay was being written; this legislative, “diplomatic” recourse to the ever-growing tension surrounding Russia and the entire Ukraine, not just the Crimea, might not even loom large enough as a threat to stop chaos from unfolding.

With the news that President Joe Biden has told NATO that he believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, it appears as though this latest threat of sanction, as massive as it might be, has been considered and duly ignored. Clearly, that nation continues to either bluff remarkably hard, or believes that those sanctions can be weathered by whatever alternative diplomatic or economic means necessary.

Yet should a diplomatic route not be devised or found to extricate all parties from what would be a very ugly encounter in Eastern Europe, this MOAS, to play off of its namesake, the mother of all bombs, will be deployed, but will not likely succeed in bringing Russia any closer towards realizing amicable or amiable feelings towards the United States, the EU or Ukraine and the Crimea in particular.

Instead, between friction regarding NATO, western diplomatic and military influence in Russia’s traditional neighbors, the geopolitical fates of those nations that border Russia, as well as those sanctions that were placed and ever tightened in the time since the 2014 incidents involving the Crimea region, Ukraine and Russia, there is a lot for the diplomats of all involved nations to sort and work through – and seemingly little time for any of it to get done. Time is ticking on the matter to be sure; Russia has amassed troops upon the borders of Ukraine to the east, as well as from the north in Belarus. 

Now, might this be a rouse by Vladimir Putin, a negotiating exercise of which is attempting to bluff the world as it were? Yes. Putin has the west at the negotiating table regarding Crimea, NATO expansion or the perceivable threat of it, as well as, undoubtedly, sanctions. While Russia and its government put up a brave face regarding sanctions, their society and nation have been damaged by them to be sure – simply not in ways that will lead to the romanticized, and I often think, imaginary circumstances – whereby Russia recalibrates and reimagines its foreign policy in more amicable ways with the nations who are sanctioning the sanction regime that continues to grip the world from the west. 

And China, for its part, is including itself in the matter on the Russian side of things – as the United States and most of Europe are regarding Ukraine – by pronouncing that, like their own relationship with Taiwan, the United States and greater international community should essentially buzz off and let regional conflicts evolve as they might. As China does have a Ukraine of its own – Taiwan – this is a predictable response and recourse by Beijing. 

Indeed, as I have recently written, China remains more than happy to act and build with nations that nations like the United States decide to cast aside and out of the international community of nations, and developing deeper economic, practical and diplomatic ties with Russia, as with those other nations that China has come to aid only makes the recourse weaker and less effective in the short and long term.

But returning to the topic at hand, Russia will not be brought towards a state of cooperation in their hyper-agitated, consistently aggressive state, and whatever side one falls on regarding this issue, one can hardly deny that a perceived expansion of influence towards a regional power’s perceived domain or area of influence will always agitate any nation, famously and countlessly including our own

A real roadmap towards a better diplomatic and practical relationship must be imagined and defined for all to see, and for all to participate within, yet it appears as though it is increasingly growing too late in this particular circumstance; what Russia wants is, on its face, too much to be accommodated by the west without a real Russian recalibration of sorts, both at home and abroad, yet this feels an unlikely twist in the tale as well. 

The mother of all sanctions, however, like the mother of all bombs, will not discourage a nation that has, in political ways, made an allegedly “sanction proof economy” for itself, any more than a massive bomb discourages other nations from their endeavors – or in making still larger bombs in turn. Now, when a term like “sanction proof” is thrown about, it does not mean that a nation and its people do not feel the pain of sanctions, because, again, in the practical sense of things, sanctions do exactly what they are literally intended to do, they just do not work in the larger view of things because they do not lead to the theoretical end that they have long been imagined to.

A nation like Iran has said multiple times throughout the years that sanctions do not hurt the most powerful of the nation, the leaders, diplomats, government and so on, but only leave the people of those nations prostrate and suffering in imaginable and unimaginable ways. While the famous FinCen files that came out in 2020 highlighted how nations and oligarchs around the world avoid and maneuver around international sanctions constantly, it was just days ago that a report emerged that stated that North Korean state paid for their missile innovations and most recent launches with stolen cryptocurrency; the owner of two, of what might be considered the only two, Maybachs in North Korea, is surely not feeling the effects of the sanction regime in the same way that his people are, and despite optimistic reports upon the effects of the sanction regime from outlets and think tanks alike, the truth remains one of a relative nature.

Sanctions work in that they put great pressure upon a nation and society – no matter how leaders attempt to “target” leaders or particular interests – and they are successful in doing this because of the interconnected nature of each and every society itself, functionally speaking; when one facet of an economy or industry is affected somewhere, it will have cascading effects across and throughout an economy and society in turn. When the wealthiest of a nation are targeted, they do not simply take their losses and spare the society that they ostensibly serve the economic hardship or suffering, but, in fact, pass off the suffering to them in order to recoup any losses to the best of their ability.

When a report suggests that sanctions are working because a practical economy involving millions of people is under severe pressure, hurting the lives of millions of people who are not insulated from the practical effects of either national or individual sanctions, it strains one’s own credulity to imagine what mindset a person might have to have to believe that this should be defined as progress or success by any known metric. That through this action, a better, more amicable and peaceful tomorrow can be discovered or created by any or all of the involved parties or polities, again, defies historical precedent; in fact, when peace can be found after pressurizing a populace, it is usually only a facade of peace, or else an interlude before some greater, more disturbing act of human brutality or menace. 

Yet when a piece or report goes on to state that oligarchs are suffering the consequences of the sanction regime, it is nearly as unbelievable as the aforementioned declaration in the previous paragraph. Ignoring for a moment how sanctions on oligarchs and their industries are easily avoidable for the most part, or might be easily passed off upon the nation and peoples themselves, the relative natures of oligarchic suffering and that of the general population must be considered and weighed fairly; reasonably doing so would draw quickly the conclusion that the magnitude of the “suffering” is hardly a seriously necessary measurement at all.

Reports suggesting hundreds of thousands of dollars – multimillions of dollars more commonly – have been lost by these industrial and commercial magnates, bearing almost feudal type wealth and power relative to the great swaths of the population around them, simply cannot be considered “suffering” at all in comparison to the plight of the common individual under the heavy blight of sanctions. When held to the light alongside the struggles and sufferings of the people from Moscow and St. Petersburg to those in the northern villages, great plains of Siberia and far eastern stretches, the arguments wilt away into nothing; how can people that still possess millions of dollars be feeling the soul-crushing pressure of sanctions in any way relative to that pressure of which the regular folks of the society are feeling it?

To be as clear as possible regarding the matter, sanctions “work,” only when they lead to those diplomatic and political innovations we seek to create from their use; should those innovations not come to be, the sanction or sanctions, however well it suffocates and blots out a nation and its humanity from the international community, cannot be considered to have successfully “worked” at all.

In this same vein, the mother of all sanctions would not suddenly devastate the most powerful or wealthy of Russia in ways that would leave the populace unharmed or unaffected, any more than any of the previous sanctions were able to; the threat of stopping the Nord II pipeline and other energy resources from flowing westward is, quite likely anyway, more of a real and potentially catastrophic recourse than those other innovations we have previously applied or threaten to apply in the near future. Yet to ignore the many pipelines for a spell, if those initial rounds of sanctions have not worked to bring Russia, either happily or enraged, towards the cooperation that the US and its allies wished for over the previous years and sanction iterations, what logic persists to suggest that this great sanction bomb of sorts might now do the trick, as the Russian Bear looks ready to possibly invade the Ukraine despite of all that has been previously tried?

The path to a better future is, indeed, a proverbial road of which diplomats from across the world and ideological spectrum must work to map out properly. It is that which can be agreed to, worked through, built and improved through and upon, and which can lead to further, mutually positive innovations in turn. The old JCPOA with Iran is an example of this type of thought pattern which endures even after its death – and even as a reborn JCPOA looks as though it is within the grasp of all involved parties

Those principle points that Russia would likely wish to address in discussions must range from NATO expansion, to regional and international spheres of influence, sanctions, separatists, the Ukraine, Crimea, fighting in the Donbas, and how better relations might be developed between all parties moving forward; regarding NATO, an organization which has not always been enthusiastic vis-a-vis Ukrainian admittance, a decision must be made by those powers regarding its place in the 21st century. 

Should it be honestly determined that NATO, as it is currently constructed, remains a positive innovation for international relations as a whole, and not simply a regional council of hegemony for the most wealthy or powerful of the nations included, then negotiations must start from attempting to respect the wishes of Russia, as well as the practical circumstance and desires of the Ukraine and the political state of Crimea in some manner reminiscent of the 1954 Geneva Accords – except that they must actually be abided by, by all involved parties. 

While the leader of Russia appears to wish to proceed – from what some reports tend to indicate anyway – their population doesn’t really wish to move forward with this plan of action; the statement of a retired military official, internal feelings and the realities of the economic costs of something like this all indicates as much. Putin might have walked himself into a deeper corner than he was previously in, but he will do whatever he believes he must to create, if even only in appearance, some type of perceived leverage in dealings with the EU and US. 

And so, as both conflict and these mother of all sanctions hang in the offing, negotiations to create an accord to offer Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine a real path out of this holding pattern that the region and parties have remained in since 2014, despite the sanctions or the 2015 Minsk Accord, must be endeavored upon with all the vigor that the United States and its European allies can muster, before time has run out. The war hawks of each and every nation upon this planet are out in full force, writing and stating their cases for conflict and violence – as they have for so many previous decades, centuries, etc.

While no one is happy with the moves that Vladimir Putin or Russia have made to bring about negotiations, finding a mutual and positive path forward remains in the best interests of each and every nation involved. While one portion of such a multinational, multilateral accord would, and must, deal with the regional circumstances of this still-evolving crisis, some second act of the accord or accords would have to be created or imagined by which to further cultivate a healthy, non-antagonistic international relationship with Russia, while simultaneously setting that nation on an improved, multilateral pathway towards an increased standing and place within the international community of nations, on both a diplomatic and economic level. 

This path, as difficult and treacherous as it may look and sound at this very moment, is surely the only way to find a real, long-lasting and mutually positive peace going onward; sanctions from the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have not brought Russia to the table, and, in fact, Russia brought itself to the table by behaving how it has. 

Therefore, the recourse that has brought us here, internationally speaking, surely cannot be estimated to be able to bring us away from here too. No, only negotiations and discussions can truly win this day, this hour, this minute; sanctions will not, as they have not. Sanctions are, in many ways, an act of war, and so should not be utilized as a frivolous tool of diplomacy as they have been. 

Should war end up enveloping that part of the world, there will be massive international repercussions that, for the sake of all currently involved and non-involved parties, must be avoided as best as possible; should war come, the time for diplomacy will have withered, and no amount of sanctioning or sanctions will stop what next unfurls. War will not come softly at this time, and it will not leave swiftly for any nation either; it is, as always, the greatest blight of humanity, and must be looked to be avoided until there is no other option left.

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