We are having one heck of a rollercoaster ride on the EU’s upcoming Russian sanctions renewal in July. The Russophobes, especially the Ukrainians, have predictably kept up their screams for “more, more”, while the voices of moderation call for an end to, or at least an easing of sanctions.
The G-7 countries cast their votes early, a unanimous call for a renewal; and the EU Council was quick to follow, with ex-Polish President Donald Tusk, a hardcore Russophobe, making the announcement. But there are growing opposition rumbles being heard across Europe, led by some of the newer East European member countries who feel that the EU got suckered by US pressure for sanctions while the US only bears 10% of the lost business. EU exports of agricultural products were off 29% in the past year, equivalent to 4.4 billion Euros and an estimated 130,000 lost jobs.
The French Senate passed a draft resolution in committee having large bipartisan support to push for sanctions removal, while the sponsors of the draft resolution, Yves Pozzo di Borgo and Simon Sutour, stated that, “Deteriorating relations between Russia and the EU are only causing regret. We believe that gradual easing of sanctions imposed against Russia is necessary, particularly in the field of economy.” The resolution is not binding on President Hollande, but indicates that the public is tired of being used as financial sacrificial lambs in geopolitical strategy games.
The biggest surprise came from Germany when Foreign Minister Steinmeier seemed to undermine Merkel’s G-7 extension vote by posing that the time has come to show more flexibility as the sanctions have been totally ineffective. And he brought up another reason that mass media has not covered much, the possibility that the unanimous votes of all 28 members may not be possible without some compromise.
EU unity is already under strain due to disagreements on how best to coordinate the fight against terrorism and the refugee problem, not just coming out of Syria, but Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. A showdown is looming with Turkey on its demands that the rules be waived for its no visa ruling or the refugee deal is dead Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has already stated that his country is against the automatic renewal.
In Kiev, there was no tone of reconciliation, with Poroshenko trying to get in front of the issue by instituting new Ukrainian sanctions against Moscow, and doing this with the backdrop of former NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s appointment as his new advisor. Rasmussen was one of the key players behind the West’s support for the Kiev coup and NATO’s push toward Russia’s border.
He has already stated that he is advising Poroshenko that he must show progress at controlling corruption and pushing through reforms to help keep Western support for the sanctions. Missing in Rasmussen’s statements, or any of the EU pundits, is any demand for Ukraine to live up to its side of the Minsk Accords. The key issue on the table is moving forward on the Donbass elections, which has been stalled by strong opposition from the nationalist extremists.
But Donbass is getting indirect support in other parts of Ukraine, like Odessa, who overwhelmingly just voted for decentralization with other districts voting similarly. Poroshenko can certainly read the tea leaves. The central government is not trusted.
The West does have some financial levers to play, as the IMF will be coming to Kiev in June with the keys to the next badly needed funding for Kiev to keep afloat. One of those is slashing of energy subsidies which are going to cause great hardship, especially among pensioners on their $45 a month stipends.
The IMF is also going to demand the selling off of state assets, such as control of the energy pipelines, currently a major engine for graft payments. Western insiders will cherry pick the best industries to take over at fire sale prices that have export earnings potential while taking advantage of Ukraine’s low wages but well educated workforce.
Ukrainians have only to look at Crimea to see what a bad move they made, since Crimea’s referendum allowed it to avoid the chaos that Kiev suffered. All extortion attempts by Kiev and the nationalists hooking up with the Tatars has failed. The energy bridge is functioning, and the rail and vehicle transportation bridge is on schedule. New Western polls in Crimea show landside approval for their reintegration with Russia, with 94% ethnic Russians, and almost 70% of Ukrainians agreeing the vote was legitimate, with 74% percent saying life would be better for their families. That puts a wooden state through the heart of Western claims of Russian aggression.
Instead of having a precarious economy like Ukraine, Crimea has enjoyed a major expansion in support of the peninsula’s economy. Media hacks still keep pitching the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but still fail to show us the satellite or drone images or intelligence to prove it. The G7, in its sanctions renewal announcement, claimed justification by saying, “as long as repression continues,”… which is a bad joke.
All of Ukraine was oppressed by this Western coup in Kiev when the former Ukrainian leadership was trying to maintain good relations with East and West. And this is the same G-7 that has wholeheartedly supported the proxy terrorist war against the Syrian people, which many view as quite the repressive act itself, with over 400,000 Syrians dead. So far Ukraine has gotten off lucky.
Russia has taken the sanctions torment in stride. Prime Minister Medvedev is pushing for an extension on the food import bans to the beginning of 2018 so domestic investors have more planning room for crop production to meet demand. It also gives the growing EU anti-sanctions movement more incentive to push harder to begin turning things around.
Moscow has been using its time wisely, as covered in Phil Butler’s recent NEO article about the food growing potential for Russia, with the increasing global desertification problem that is destroying fertile land and water resources. Russian water and food resources could become another economic engine, especially in the area of non-GMO products that are gaining in market demand.
The Kiev coup has sparked a series of boomerangs against the latest US-EU-NATO Cold War plans. Russia and China have moved quickly to finalize long term energy projects that previously had been drifting. The CIS states are building an integrated air defense system, and offering Russia advance air bases.
Despite the sanctions that were supposed to cripple the Russian economy, we see its military modernization on schedule, producing new generation weapons at a small fraction of Western outlays. Russia has no F-35 problems, nor are its people having to pay for $4.4 billion navy destroyers like the Admiral Zumwalt.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea were never about aggression, but about protecting Russian people from the neo-Nazi collaborators of the Kiev coup, whose representatives bragged from the Rada’s rostrum about what they were going to do to all the Russian heritage people in Southeastern Ukraine.
NATO is working to put a few more regiments on the Russian border. Moscow has responded by adding two new divisions. Its arms exports are booming, and Putin and Lavrov are two of the most respected world leaders. Why can’t the West see how counterproductive its actions have been? Does it even care?
Maybe Lavrov maybe gave us the answer in his recent Pravda interview where he said, “Ukraine was only a pretext for the aggravation of the sanctions campaign, … the policy of containment against Russia began to manifest itself much earlier”.
Donald Tusk is headed to Russia in June for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, and he has already said that EU-Russia relations will be the main topic for his visit. He recently shocked the European People’s Party where he put the whole idea of the European Union up for debate saying:
“The specter of a break-up is haunting Europe. A vision of a federation doesn’t seem to me like the best answer to it…we failed to notice” [or did not care] “that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our Euro-enthusiasm”. He added that it was time for “an honest and open debate on the subject.”
I would not bet on Tusk finding such a debate in the EU, but I am certain he will in St. Petersburg.
Jim W. Dean, managing editor for Veterans Today, producer/host of Heritage TV Atlanta, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.