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article imageOp-Ed: Russian retaliatory sanctions change the global game

By Paul Wallis     Aug 7, 2014 in World
Moscow - Russian sanctions have redefined a local issue into a global issue. The Ukraine crisis has created an evolving conflict of a different kind. Russia’s retaliation to sanctions could be the beginning of a new global dichotomy of unpredictable dimensions.
Voice of Russia:
As the Ukraine crisis continues, many analysts believe the relationship between Russia and the United States has reached its most fractured since the Cold War. Many have warned of the danger of increasing political rhetoric escalating into a military conflict. Andrei P. Tsygankov from the department of International Relations & Political Science at San Francisco State University has recently described Russia as having "an inferiority complex" while America possesses "a superiority complex". VoR's Brendan Cole started by asking Dr Tsygankov if Vladimir Putin would agree with the assertion that Russia felt inferior.
St. Petersburg Times:
Following the publication Thursday of the list of banned products, pictures of empty shelves from Soviet times flooded Russian social networks and blogs, along with sardonic jokes about how in introducing the ban, Russia had demonstrated its care for its citizens' spiritual well-being by letting them choose from only two kinds of cheese, fish, meat and other products.
Despite widespread anger at the move to limit the availability of foreign food, this negative reaction is still limited to an exclusive and politically conscious audience that is already largely critical of the government anyway, according to Lev Gudkov, director of the independent Levada Center pollster.
"According to our research, public opinion in Russia is conservative and only begins to seriously react to events two or three weeks after they happen. The consequences of these decisions, as well as of sanctions overall, will only become visible in November," as people are more politically apathetic during the summer, Gudkov told The St. Petersburg Times in a phone interview.
The Russians are taking an almost diametrically opposite view of the situation to the West. They’re transferring the argument about the Ukraine into a view of the West, and particularly the US.
This situation is escalating in incremental steps to a rewriting of the script between Russia, the non-aligned nations, and the West. There are multiple foci, including trade, diplomatic relations, strategic positioning, and third party relationships.
Trade: Food does grow on trees, sometimes
Russians may not like the idea of limitations on their choice of food as an article of government policy, but both Russian and Western media seem to be ignoring the fact that Russia can easily source food from elsewhere. China, India, and Eastern Europe can supply a very wide range of foods.
The rebound from the sanctions would be amusing, if it wasn’t so staggeringly predictable:
In Australia, both government and opposition are now complaining about the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of exports to Russia. Australia was rather over-belligerent in its rhetoric regarding the Ukraine prior to the MH17 incident, adding more unproductive fluff to the debate about the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Canada, also vociferous, is now counting the cost of sanctions on its pork exports.
The US, like its allies, has had sanctions imposed on chickens (there are no chickens in Russia?) and other strategic assets.
Consider this: These billions of dollars’ worth of markets are now up for grabs. It’s more than likely that un-targeted producers have been wearing out the phones offering to fill in the gaps. The Russian sanctions can work, in that regard, even creating new markets.
Diplomacy: Move a pawn and make a point
In what cannot possibly be a coincidence, Edward Snowden has had his Russian residency extended by 3 years. This is a basic slap in the face, not entirely unpredictable, but selectively a typical Russian pawn move.
Other moves of this kind may be expected. Russia can use its leverage with other nations to create exclusionist options with China and India, too. China is regularly infuriated by flat footed criticisms, justified and otherwise, by US leaders. India has a longstanding working relationship and trade agreements with Russia which dates back to the Soviet era.
Strategic positioning: Exploit weak spots, create new alignments, and let everybody else adjust
If Russia plays the same strategic game as in the past, without the inefficiencies and insanities of the Soviet years, it can create some very healthy strategic options. Not military options, which would be pointless, but economic moves, relationships and a bit of pump-priming for strategic assets and resources.
This is playing macro-capitalism at its own game, and Russia holds quite a few cards it can play. Russia’s economy does have weak points, and many of them, but the strong cards are very strong. The West would be making a serious mistake to underestimate Russia’s ability to play to its economic strengths.
Russia is modernizing, and shaking off the legacy of a failed, cumbersome, and obsolete system. Modernization is more a matter of scale than difficulty.
China: A lot of solutions are right next door
It’s a matter of opinion why people who should have known better continue to ignore China’s possible options in a Russian/Western spat. A Sino-Russian meeting of the minds could produce some very interesting, and very competitive, options.
China and Russia could make a very interesting counterbalance to the US/EU partnership, particularly considering the destructive US political environment and the EU’s ham-fisted “accountancy uber alles” approach to managing itself. Add India to the mix, and you have a de facto superpower triumvirate.
When policy does nothing but create more problems
If the political strategic game changes, everything changes. The West has a bad habit of creating problems and then creating conflicts when trying to solve them. This situation, if it leads to a major redefinition of global politics and trade, could be a serious own goal.
The Ukraine is a real mess. It’s a nasty, horrible, reflection on unresolved issues which date back centuries for the Ukrainians and a matter of national pride to the Russians. It’s not, however, a basis for ill-considered,(and so far impractical, unsatisfactory) solutions to take priority over realpolitik issues.
Third party self-righteousness isn’t going to bring peace to the Ukraine. Widening the range of issues, when you haven’t solved the original issues, can’t be a great idea. This is a case of be careful what you wish for, because “isolating” Russia seems to have all the possibilities of doing the exact opposite.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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