Russian President Vladimir Putin made a good call this week when he said that economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on his country by the United States are both “counterproductive and meaningless”.
It was a nice touch, too, when later Russia announced that it would not be halting its exports of titanium metal to the US for the latter’s aviation industry. Russian trade officials said they would not “shoot themselves in the foot” by banning a remunerative export business to the US, despite the latter’s boorish behavior towards Russia. Indeed, why harm oneself over another person’s foolishness?
First, let’s look at the “meaningless” side of the equation. The US has imposed a raft of sanctions on Russia since 2014 stemming from the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s alleged annexation of Crimea. Another supposed cause for sanctions against Russia is the alleged interference in US elections. Still another purported grievance is the alleged involvement of the Kremlin in the apparent poison-assassination plot against a disgraced former spy living in England.
All these claims are unfounded and, frankly, outlandish, lacking any credible proof. The resultant sanctions are therefore “meaningless” in the most stark definition of the word. They are based on thin air, nothing more. So, if Russia were to react to these meaningless sanctions in a robust way, it is only tending to give the baseless accusations some undeserved substance. Better to treat something meaningless with the quiet contempt that it deserves. Someone else’s delusions only take on a veneer of reality when the delusions are somehow acknowledged.
Secondly, as for the “counterproductive” side of the equation: US sanctions are intended to do serious harm to Russia’s economy and society. That is deplorable and ignominious of Washington to wield wanton aggression. Nevertheless, the world has changed since the good-old, bad-old days when American global power indisputably had significant clout. Today, a multipolar world is emerging in which Russia has alternative trading partners and options, such as its growing partnership with China and the rest of Eurasia. Even the European Union is becoming restless from Washington’s abuse of its supposed power, with Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas this week talking about Europe exploring independent financing mechanisms for its trade relations, to make them immune from US capricious sanctions.
US sanctions against Russia are therefore not just meaningless and counterproductive, they are in fact a sign that evaluates growing American weakness.
This week President Donald Trump said in an interview with the Reuters news agency that he may lift sanctions off Russia if Moscow gives concessions on Ukraine and Syria.
His comments seemed to be orchestrated with those of his national security advisor John Bolton who while visiting Israel made the fatuous comment that Russia was “stuck in Syria”. Taken together, the comments implied that Russia would be somehow beholden to the US for receiving help.
Nikolai Patrushev, Russia’s counterpart to Bolton, reportedly reminded him during a subsequent meeting in Geneva on Thursday that it is not Russia that is stuck. Rather, it is the US that has become enfeebled and enmeshed from its illegal wars and subterfuges across the Middle East and North Africa.
Trump and his administration may think he has bargaining power over Moscow for the latter to do Washington’s bidding. Such horse-trading may have worked in the realm of tacky real-estate wheeling-dealing, which was Trump’s business before he became a politician. But if the US thinks it can force Russia with such low-ball tactics, then it shows how deluded American rulers are about their presumed power.
The world is changing. Washington’s bullyboy tactics of using sanctions as a stick to intimidate others are a sign that US power has in fact lost its former grip. Russia will not be demeaned by engaging in such futile antics.