over a barrel
Russian President Vladimir Putin: in the driver’s seat, for now.
One hundred years after an assassination in Sarajevo set off World War I, the destruction of a civilian airliner over Ukraine is seen by some as a new causus belli.
But the muted reaction of those in a position to do something about it reflects the new realities of an interconnected, mutually-dependent global economy.
Resource rich Russia, seen as the chief villain in the Malaysian airliner disaster, is not susceptible to a frontal attack – or any kind of attack, for that matter.
The lesson of the past six months, more evident now, is that sanctions are a double-edged sword: they have the potential to blow back, hurting those imposing them as much as the target.
The restraint imposed by globalization might just protect us all from the war-to-end-all-wars.
The relative impotence of the west to impose its will on Russia’s Vladimir Putin was on full display Tuesday as the European Union considered its response.
The day before the plane was shot down, the US tightened its finely targeted sanctions on Russia and urged its European partners to do the same.
The EU action was tellingly reported by The Guardian in the story EU announces further sanctions on Russia after downing of MH17
The BBC report on the EU actions on Tuesday. Click image to enlarge.
“The European Union will expand its sanctions blacklist to target Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and draw up further broad measures including an arms embargo and financial restrictions on Russian businesses, EU foreign ministers have decided following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17,” The Guardian reported.
The background, however, is crucial. “However, the new sanctions will not be applied immediately. The EU has threatened punitive measures before without being able to find a consensus to implement them. And even if an arms embargo were imposed it would not be retrospective, so would not affect France’s plans to deliver assault ships to Russia.”
The Guardian noted that the Russian viewpoint on the aircraft disaster is at odds with that of western nations; it focuses “on theories hinting that the Ukrainian or US governments downed the plane,” the report said.
The dilemma facing both the Europeans and the US was, perhaps unintentionally, cast into stark relief earlier on Tuesday with a detailed report in The New York Times about work in Saint-Nazaire, France on two warships being built for Russia.
In the story A French Port Welcomes an Intervention by Russia’s Military Maia De La Baumejuly wrote succinctly:
The New York Times story on the French town where two warships are being built for Russia. Click image to enlarge.
[W]ith much of Europe showing signs of taking a harder line with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Saint-Nazaire has become a symbol of the difficult trade-off between diplomatic and national concerns on the one hand and jobs and an economic future on the other.”
The town is home port to Russian trainees learning how to handle the two Mistral ships being built for its navy.
“The challenge facing France is one that many European nations are grappling with: Is Britain willing to risk the huge sums of Russian money that flow through London’s financial district? Is Germany willing to endanger the supply of natural gas from Russia?”
The answers to these questions are gradually being unveiled, and it seems to be a tentative “no” or, at least, “not yet.”
In its report on the day’s events, the BBC EU to widen Russia sanctions quoted British Prime Minister David Cameron on the French warship deal.
“Mr. Cameron condemned France’s sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia – a deal also criticized by the US,” the BBC reported.
“France hinted that it could suspend delivery of one of the warships to Russia, depending on Russia’s attitude to the Ukraine conflict.”
Mr. Cameron has said there is a “reluctance” among some European countries to take more decisive action against Russia.
The reluctance is growing more evident by the day.
Quoting the Europe 1 web site, the BBC added to its report:
“When asked about the Mistral warship deal with Russia, French President Francois Hollande said the first of two ships “is almost finished and must be delivered in October.”
President Obama has drawn considerable heat from trigger-happy hawks in the US for his measured tightening of punitive sanctions against Russia.
But unfolding events are clarifying the wisdom of his course.
In the quarter century since the end of the cold war, the Russian Federation has become a strategically significant player in the global economy.
It is a major supplier of energy to Europe and world markets.
If this acts to restrain the hotheads who would immediately bomb Moscow in retaliation, the entire world can breathe a sigh of relief. The unintended consequence of globalization is making a repeat of events from a century ago far less likely. For that, we all should be grateful.
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