Extending Russian Sanctions

Extending Russian Sanctions
  • Good morning everybody, and welcome to the debate. I would like to start by asking "Was the EU right to extend the sanctions against Russia, and if so, do the sanctions go far enough?"

  • Thank you Gary for inviting me to join this conversation.


    My view of the issue is extremely simple. Russia, when it annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine with a hybrid force (irregulars comprising volunteers and mercenaries) committed a crime. This crime is a threat to the member states of the EU - it undermines international law regarding borders and could potentially lead to conflicts within the EU. Russia is destabilising the Union itself by using deniable assets- politicians and others who are incentivised by various means including payments and loans via banks, oligarchs and media channels.


    If the EU does not support the enforcement of international law in Ukraine it will face an increasing threat within its borders. Russia's aim is to splinter the EU and to sever the transatlantic alliance. So extending sanctions is morally justified and imperative for the security of the EU. In addition, the EU must act to secure the threat from deniable assets in particular the "red brown" alliance sponsored by Putin. Finally, all RU promoted narratives blaming the victim must be eschewed. 

  • Let me draw your attention to this article by Alexander Scherba on Euromaidan Press (thank you Alya Shandra) in which he puts the case succintly - "Blaming Ukraine for Russia’s attack in 2014 is the same as blaming Poland for Germany’s attack in 1939."


    I quote directly:

    "The war began with the landing of Putin’s 'green men' in the Crimea in February 2014. At the insistence of the West, Ukraine did not resist. As a result, the so-called 'referendum' was held in a few days under the barrel of Russian troops. Even Hitler once took longer to annex Austria.

    Ukraine begged for peace – to no avail." 
  • Steve, on the subject of 'deniable assets', we are aware of the influence the Kremlin has over smaller political groups in the European Parliament. We are also aware of the Russian so-called 'journalists' who sit in on parliamentary committees. In 2009, Vasily Chizov, son of the present Russian Ambassador to the EU, was expelled from NATO headquarters in Brussels for spying.


    Do the current sanctions go far enough, or should the EU drastically broaden the scope to include, for example, all non-diplomatic staff of Russian state controlled media?

  • I think this question goes beyond sanctions and touches upon issues of security. I would say that the EU needs to increase its spending on combating RU disinformation and develop a new conception of what comprises a security service asset.


    If an individual/entity is in receipt of RU funding via some source and is peddling counter-factual narratives (eg no RU troops in Ukraine or suggesting that #MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian jet) then some measures should be adopted. I do think the measure you suggest should be considered as part of a new framework for an EU wide security package. 

  • The US has also extended sanctions against Russia this week. There are concerns, however, that Trump may abandon the measures. His nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, an oil & gas man, is known to oppose sanctions, and appears on very good terms with the Kremlin.


    If the US does drop the sanctions, could the EU realistically maintain them?

  • Unfortunately Russia has subverted the US by the use of deniable assets and it is difficult to predict what will happen. Trump may be constrained by other factors including US national interests but, in the event that the US ends sanctions, they should nevertheless be maintained by the EU. The issue here is that international law will crumble unless it is sustained and possibly lead to a widening conflict.


    As Halya Coynash notes - "It will be a disaster for everybody, and most of all America itself, if Russia’s lobbying and other means of influence on Trump and his team prove its best investment." Unfortunately, the US has, in effect, allowed itself to be taken over without a shot being fired. It is now crucial for the EU to be prepared to step in to shore up international order. The deal which Trump appears to be working towards as Halya notes:

    "The noises made by Trump himself and by his people in Moscow in early December make the ‘deal’ on Ukraine clear enough, albeit lacking in any transparency. The USA is given carte blanche to remove sanctions and improve relations with Russia because Ukraine falls silent over Russia’s occupation of Crimea in exchange for help in fighting Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine.


    What a ‘deal’ allowing the removal of sanctions would personally give Trump’s choice for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and quite possibly Trump himself is calculable.  What it will give America is not."

    The US may endorse the Hitler style annexation of Crimea in the interests of its Russia-connected President. If it does, the sacrifices made by so many Americans for the liberation of Europe will have been treated with contempt. The EU and US are at a moral crossroads now and must decide on the kind of world they want - one governed by law where words mean what they say. Or one governed by force.

  • Steve, you refer to a 'Hitler style annexation of Crimea'. These are very strong words indeed, but it is the case, is it not, that when Putin occupied and annexed Crimea he was the first European leader to commit such an act against another European country since Adolph Hitler. We don't like to talk about Hitler lightly, but this is a valid analogy, I would argue. Isn't it tragic that a country, Russia, that lost so many people in the fight against Nazism, should find itself enamored with such a leader? 


    I am going off thread a wee bit here, but I would like to ask; in your opinion, does this reflect the politics of the Russian people, or is this simply a symptom of the slavish 'Vozhd' (German equivalent would be Fuhrerprinzip) mentality of the Russians? 

  • Hello Gary,

    Yes it is, of course, lamentable that a country which lost so many people fighting Nazism should relapse into autocracy. Equally, that it should attack Ukraine, whose losses due to Nazism were immense, in this manner is particularly sad. However, the country's political elite never embraced the notion of democracy. The measures introduced under Glasnost and Perestroika were not undertaken out of conviction but through economic necessity.


    Democracy, etc. are just viewed as ploys, a charade, to cement the position of the elite- the scenario resembles Golitsyn's deception strategy in a way - see for example the use of the decoy pseudo president Medvedev. The mentality of the leadership and security services remained unchanged and many Russians themselves saw little utility in democracy - they were still, with of course some exceptions, living harsh impoverished lives. It was relatively easy for Putin to steer the country towards a reinvented Fascism especially post-2008. The failure of democracy to take root could be traced back to the prolonged duration of serfdom in Russia or to the lack of a religious reformation or to the belief in the dying days of the Soviet Union that it was a convenient charade. Putin has filled that moral and emotional vacuum.

  • I think that the word 'vacuum' describes absolutely the political space left behind after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

  • When Putin passes away he will leave a kind of political wasteland with an atrophied civic society - the situation will perhaps be worse than that which prevailed after the Soviet collapse. The deaths of Nemtsov and Politkovskaya were, perhaps, representative of the death of Russia's potential to reimagine itself.


    With the idea of democracy discredited and civic society/the courts/the legislature subjugated, it is possible to envisage the increasing North Korea-isation of Russia. So along with sanctions, the EU must find a way to foster a different kind of Russia. However, Putin aims to ruin the concept of democracy not solely in Russia but also in the west and to destroy the European model (via subversion and his red brown alliance).

  • The approach I outline above to security would, perhaps, have implications for anyone who has accepted financial support from Russia - but, as I have argued, Russia is utilising non-intelligence assets to undertake work previously allocated for what were termed "Agents of Influence". In the not so good old days the KGB paid journalists and politicians in target countries to "influence" these states for the benefit of the Soviet Union. Putin's regime has allocated this task to a mixture of fake media outlets, and oligarchical funding conduits - these incentivise western politicians and journalists to pump out Russia's narrative or block/lobby against measures helpful to Ukraine.


    The use of non-intelligence linked tools seems to render them immune from the west's more conventional counter intelligence services. So the question for me is whether the EU itself can resist this assault on its information space and political integrity.

  • Can the EU resist this "assault on its information space and political integrity"?  Does it have the tools? Does it have the will?

  • I am not sure that it does Gary. The EU certainly does not have the tools at present which, I suggest, would include a revised approach to security.


    One difficulty is that tackling deniable assets and fake news stories can be seen as an attack on the very values we supposedly hold dear. Russia is corrupting the legislatures and politicians who ought to embody that will. It's also worth noting that many in the west who benefit from democracy are increasingly sceptical about democracy. Russia is exploiting a crisis of faith and values - and exploiting a too readily corrupted political elite.

  • So Putin is drawing on his Judo training... "Use your opponent's force against him".....

  • I personally believe that this is the case. He understands (in line with hybrid war theory) that the conflict is being fought in the media and political systems of the west.


    He can exploit media freedom (and social media) to manipulate the consciousness and perceptions of many people in the west. This can allow him to influence elections in favour of politicians he has subverted. 

  • I think one of the big problems is that Putin c.s. are very effectively using Soviet propaganda methods by creating the impression that Russia is encircled with enemies ("fascists") and has the right to defend itself. By doing so it denies a number of very fundamental issues that are too complex for a wider public that wants simple answers.


    First of all, it was the USSR that helped build the German army in the 1920s; it was the USSR that concluded the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Nazi-Germany; the republics that suffered most from the Nazi invasion were Belarus and Ukraine, not Russia. And then a sad fact is that Russia currently has the largest fascist movement on the European continent, has a government and leader that is quite fascist in its ways of operating and is currently the biggest threat to world peace. So I think a prolongation of sections is logical, but knowing Western politicians I also know they won't maintain this forever and Putin is just counting on this.


    As soon as Trump is in power the whole political constellation in the world is going to shift, and with the US gone (e.g. because Trump will be bogged down by scandals at home) Europe will have a hard time standing up to a dictator who has no norms or values whatsoever - has, as Simon Baron-Cohen puts it, no or negative empathy.

  • This paper gives an overview of his approach. 

  • Welcome on board, Robert. I understand that you have been travelling today, so thanks for getting here.

  • You touched on the relationship between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. I am a Londoner. My grandmother nursed my father (he was born in 1939) in an air raid shelter. The Nazi bombers that were dropping those bombs on London's civilians were flying with engines provided by Stalin's Soviet government. And that was not the only help the Kremlin provided to Hitler. 

  • Gentlemen, I want to return to the core of the debate; sanctions. 

    There are those who will argue that the sanctions are ineffectual. Certainly the Kremlin will point to the negative effects on EU member states' economies. 


    However, if the sanctions are so ineffectual, why is Russia going to such lengths, and such expense,  to try to influence EU politicians to put an end to them?

  • Regarding Russia's drive to end the sanctions and at the same time claiming that they have no effect, it is clear Russia is caught up in its own propaganda. If the sanctions have no effect then who cares? Yet they do have an effect, and quite a big one.


    According to data, more than half of Russia's population is now living below Russia's official poverty level and the economy is in very bad shape. The environment around Putin is angry because they accumulated billions and now they can't spend. The circle is becoming smaller and smaller, as a result of which Putin's paranoia is increasing by the day. Yet the message is that the sanctions have no effect. He could not say otherwise: to acknowledge would mean to acknowledge defeat.


    One thing to keep in mind though is the particular Russian trait of survivalism: even under the most dire circumstances they are able to continue, survive, accept and swallow. So in that sense, the sanctions did not bring the country to its knees, for sure. But from a political and moral point of view, giving them up would be the worst possible scenario and would expand the life-span of Putin's regime considerably. Patience is the key here, but patience is what most Western European politicians don't have.

  • I am greatly encouraged by Robert's comments re: my suggestion that the war in Syria and Ukraine was a feint. I wanted in part to stress that the war is being fought, albeit by less overtly violent means, in the West.


    Putin originally intended, I believe, to annex most of Ukraine. He failed to do so because of the courage of Ukraine's soldiers and the tenacity of its people. Europe is indebted to them and should do all it can to spare their suffering. I am signing off now but am very grateful for this opportunity and hope to participate in future debates.

  • Just in conclusion let me stress that I believe, like Robert, that the sanctions are working. If they were not the Kremlin would spend less time saying they were not working :-)


    Thank you Gary and Robert for this fascinating dialogue.

  • Gentlemen, thank you very much for your input into this important conversation. Thanks are also due to all those who have contacted me on social media during the course of the discussion. 


    Let us hope for a peaceful resolution to the Ukrainian crisis, and for the liberation of those who are currently suffering under the Russian occupation.


    Seasons greetings to all, and I wish you a peaceful and prosperous New Year!