The Sirens of Sanctions are active again, luring EU politicians onto the rocks of economic warfare. The mood music is against Russia for its activities in Syria. As the tragedy continues into its sixth year, with the unimaginable suffering of the Syrian people and with no end in sight, this multidimensional warfare is slowly destroying a proud nation. At least there was a glimmer of hope in the sanctions game when the EU leaders failed to agree on further sanctions against Russia at their meeting this month. Such glimmers, however, are rare. Reports from the summit indicate that Britain, France and Germany lobbied hard to issue yet another sanctions warning to Russia if what they call “current atrocities” in Aleppo fail to stop, but Italy was against any move to increase sanctions. This should not come as a surprise as in February this year, an Italian politician, Deborah Bergamini, told a meeting in Rome that sanctions have been a failure and Italy had lost exports to the value of 1.3 billion euros since sanctions were imposed against Russia. Even in France, whose President Hollande retains a firm position on sanctions, the Lower House of Parliament voted in April in a non-binding agreement to lift sanctions against Russia.

It is beyond question that atrocities and mistakes are being committed in Syria on all sides against innocent people, but when an enemy uses people as human shields, it is impossible not to have casualties. Russian offers to stop the bombing of Aleppo for 11 hours a day over 4 days to allow relief for its suffering occupants appear to have been spurned as insufficient for the commencement of any peace deal. Although humanitarian, it might allow the enemy to regroup. But who is the enemy? At no time in the recent history of warfare has there been such confusion in what is a fundamental principle of warfare: define your enemy. For example, the Kurdish Peshmerga are fearless fighters against the so-called Islamic State (IS) and have had considerable success against them. Yet they are constantly bombarded by Turkey, afraid of a resurgent Greater Kurdistan, grouping eastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq and north western Iran. Claiming to be anti IS, Turkey is trying to remove the most effective fighters against IS. Reports this month indicate that 200 Kurdish troops were killed by Turkish fighter jets north of Aleppo. After Kurdish militia captured the Menagh Airbase in Syria and many settlements near the border with Turkey from IS in February this year, Turkey began a sustained campaign of shelling on Kurdish positions. Attempts by Russia to have a UN resolution adopted which censured Turkey for violation of Syrian sovereignty were undermined by the US, UK and France. In supporting President Assad against rebel forces and IS, Russia appears to have the only clear strategy to bring about a settlement in Syria. At no time have western governments provided a scenario which would bring about peace in this troubled nation by removing Assad from office. The mayhem created by having the alphabet soup of rebel forces, each trying to gain power if Assad is defeated, would be the recipe for permanent warfare on a scale not seen since the 100-years’ war in Europe, ending in the 15th century. Yet it is against Russia that the major EU powers seem determined to not only maintain but increase sanctions.

Sanctions against Russia were introduced by the US and EU following the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine in February 2014. They have been increased in scope or extended in time no less than 18 times since then. These sanctions consist of an asset freeze and a travel ban against 146 persons from Russia and Ukraine and 37 companies. Russia responded with sanctions against a number of countries, including a total ban on food imports from the US and EU. This exercise in mutually assured destruction of elements of their economies is utterly pointless and is achieving nothing, except increasing unemployment. According to the independent Austrian Institute of Economic Research, these sanctions and counter sanctions are putting about 100bn euros in potential export revenue and economic development at risk. Germany could be one of the biggest losers, putting 465,000 jobs in jeopardy. Poland (335,000) and Italy (215,000) will also be big losers, with UK estimated to lose about 110,000 jobs. With a currency crisis the worst since the Yeltsin era, partially due to the drop in oil prices, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has also admitted that Russia is hurting, although he indicated that this would be an opportunity for Russia to increase its trade with Asia and South America.

The paradox for the West is that the only winner in the sanctions battle is President Vladimir Putin. Russians have always been “rally round the flag” people and Putin has been expert during his years of presidency in nurturing this phenomenon. Seen as a western trade and financial attack on their country, Russians have supported Putin in ever greater numbers, giving him ratings of more than 80% in recent polls. To be assured of being re-elected in March 2018, Putin needs to do nothing; the western supported sanctions are doing everything for him.

Former government employee John Dobson worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s Office between 1995 and 1998 and is presently a consultant in the private sector.


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