Skip to comments.One year of western sanctions against Russia: We still live in different worlds
Posted on 03/12/2015 7:45:15 PM PDT by annalex
Clifford G. Gaddy | March 9, 2015 2:19pm
Editor's Note: This piece is adapted from an op-ed originally written for Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, a Berlin-based journal on current international affairs published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
The United States and the European Union have now both announced that they are extending the economic sanctions they first imposed against Russia in March 2014 for its actions in Ukraine. One year on, the West thus remains committed to a policy which has failed so far and which has no chance of succeeding in the future. The sanctions policy was destined to fail because it was based on false assumptions about how most Russians think—in particular, how they think about security.
We and the Russians are fundamentally at odds on what sanctions are all about. The current official Western view is that sanctions are a way to punish Russia for violating the rules of the international order and to thereby correct its behavior in the future. The Russians believe the sanctions are designed to weaken Russia and reduce its ability to defend itself. These diverging views are only the tip of the iceberg of mutual misunderstanding between Russia and the West, misunderstanding that is rooted in our fundamentally different views of how nations can best ensure their security in today’s world. Angela Merkel famously said that Vladimir Putin “lives in another world.” The meaning was that he has a completely different frame of reference, and as a result, that he does not views events and actions the same way that we in the West do. What Merkel said of Putin applies to the majority of Russians. This is certainly true as regards concepts of global and national security. The West and Russia are worlds apart on what constitutes a security threat, on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and on what sanctions represent.
Our Western view is that security in an interconnected world has to be based on cooperation, dialogue, and trust. It can only be guaranteed by everyone adhering to a rules-based system. Russia rejects that idea of security. It believes that the only real guarantee of its own security and sovereignty is its independent ability to defend itself. No multinational or supranational organization can guarantee that.
We disagree completely about what led to the current standoff in Ukraine. In Putin’s world, he acted to defend Russia by neutralizing an imminent security risk. Russia, he believes, is under assault by the West. Russia could not allow Ukraine, with which it is so deeply integrated economically, to be brought fully into the sphere of influence of its enemy. Ukraine would be in a position to be persuaded—or compelled—to act against Russia, and Russia would have no way to counter that pressure. For us, by stark contrast, Russia’s violation of the rules threatens our entire system and therefore the security (and prosperity and freedom) of all.
Western leaders explain that sanctions are intended “to change Putin’s calculus.” This assumes that there are some gains he would be willing to forego in return for easing the pain of current or future sanctions. Yet when we apply this cost-benefit model—which is one adopted from the realm of the economics of crime and law enforcement—we fundamentally misunderstand what is at stake for Russia. Ukraine is not loot from a robbery, whose value Russia weighs against the cost of seizing it. In its own view, Russia acted in Ukraine to defend against an existential threat.
By applying sanctions, we think we are pressuring Russia to shift its behavior towards a more acceptable form. Russians see us as forcing them to choose: either accept a political and military situation that will threaten the survival of their nation or be subject to a constantly intensified campaign of economic warfare. For Russia, this is not a choice. It is defeat in either case.
We are therefore caught in a trap, one of our own making. We adopted a policy that could never work as it was intended, namely, as a way to force Russia to change its behavior and obey the rules of our order. Russia will never respect those rules as long as it remains convinced that our order prohibits Russia from guaranteeing its own security. Sanctions can therefore not solve our “Russia problem.” Russia will act as it has in Ukraine, and worse, as long as it feels insecure and still remains capable of defending against threats.
If “winning” in this conflict for us means that we force Russia to acknowledge that our version of international security prevails over its version of security, there is only one way we can win. Russia must collapse completely. There are, of course, those in the West who think Russia is headed for collapse internally, perhaps sooner rather than later, and that sanctions will hasten the day. This is a very dangerous bet. Because if we merely put Russia at risk of collapse, it will feel compelled to act preemptively. As long as Russia has retaliatory capability (across the full range of its arsenal from nuclear and other military weapons to its energy and cyber weapons), it will use them all before capitulating. If our strategy is to force Russia to renounce all goals of independently guaranteeing its own security and sovereignty, then we have to be prepared to fight to the end. We have to have a plan of how to neutralize all of Russia’s weapons, or be prepared to survive them.
If this is not where we want to go, what are our options? A nonmilitary outcome can only be achieved by resolving our basic clash over notions of security. Putin is interested in security. So are we. We have fundamentally different notions. Ultimately, reconciling these differences has to be the real subject of negotiation between us.
I think this is very reasonable.
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A thought-provoking article worthy of discussion.
This is correct. Even Russians opposed to Putin see the West’s policy as Western blackmail. Russia has to toe the West’s definition of what it sees as its vital state interests - or else, which has been made amply clear.
Of course Russians reject this. They see no reason why the West is angry at them for embracing fellow Russian-speaking Crimeans and their wanting to be in Russia. And they see the West does not want to acknowledge neighboring Ukraine is not just another European state.
If the West expects Russia to capitulate, good luck with it. Russians by and large see Western-imposed sanctions upon them as the cost of remaining free and independent. And they’re not willing to change their policy to get accepted by the West.
Russia invaded a sovereign country, they should be blockaded and shunned until they leave it.
LOL, Russia is invading and conquering right up to NATO's borders, and you expect NATO to not even impose sanctions.
Thank God they are doing more than mere sanctions, they are building up their defenses along the borders.
Reagan defeated them once, but Putin is on the attack again.
Ukraine is not in NATO.
The only NATO countries Russia borders are the Baltics.
Yes, they’re strengthening their armed forces. The lessons of the past two centuries inform Russia only an independent capability can guarantee its survival.
A political conflict exists with the West but thankfully its not a Cold War and should not be allowed to get out of hand.
Maybe you should explain to Mad Vlad that invading countries, flying nuclear-armed bombers over countries etc is a good way to start WW3
I believe Norway borders Russia.
Ukraine borders NATO, and Russia is invading Ukraine.
It is NATO that is strengthening our defenses and moving men and equipment to our borders and creating new units, to defend ourselves against your side, Putin.
The article is correct in explaining how Russian mentality works: they see the world as the enemy and define security accordingly.
What Crimeans — if that is even a proper word — want is not knowable till the Russian troops are gone from there. Last time there was a competitive referendum there, I think, in 1994, they voted to stay in the independent Ukraine.
The Russians need to get over the fact that absolutely any country to its West is afraid of them and would side with anyone who would pledge to protect them. Ukraine is no exception.
The only way for Russia to get out of this vicious cycle is to have some kind of program of national repentance, similar to how Germany decisively rid itself of Nazism.
Doubt it will happen
Excellent article, stating the same points that I have been making since the Maidan coup a year ago. Moscow views the eastward expansion of NATO as an existential threat to its national existence, and is not about to lose its stategic warm water port and naval base at Sevastopol, Crimea to a hostile alliance that is seeking to encircle Russia. They remember that Germany last invaded Russia through Ukraine. If the shoe was on the other foot and Russia was positioning its allied ground, naval and air forces in Mexico, we would have already and very thoroughly invaded and put an end to such meddling on our border. In contrast to our own historical record, Moscow’s intervention in eastern Ukraine has been quite restrained.
NATO had no interest in Ukraine. That was no coup, it was an attempted ‘self—coup’ by a puppet tyrant. Moscow controlled media was lying throuhh their teeth the whole time too.
NATO has had great interest in Ukraine and Georgia since the 1990s. As for the 2014 coup, a great deal of outside money and NGO involvement made it possible, just as they have helped to topple many other governments lately. And of course the Moscow-controlled media lie through their teeth all the time - just like the Kiev-controlled media and Washington-controlled “mainstream” media lie all the time, too. There are no clean hands in Ukraine, but our hands have no business there in the first place.
A fitting description from someone that sound like he serves Putin, rather than America and our NATO defense alliance, and written by you, even as Russia is invading and conquering up to NATO’s borders, and as American GIs are having to be moved forward to defend our NATO borders.
The Maidan was no coup, it was a popular anti-Soviet revolution, of the kind that any decent nation should support.
Moscow views the world as the enemy. As a consequence, Russia’s neighbors fear Russia and naturally seek protection of NATO. The root of evil is that the Russian Federation is still, under the surface, a soviet state and therefore a natural aggressor.
I don’t see any parallels with the US. Certainly, when the US face an existential threat with the Cuban missile crisis, we showed great restraint, given that Castro is still not hanging from the gallows in Havana.
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