Normally, yours truly tries to write sober posts about serious matters, like nations seemingly hell-bent on harming their citizens and creating political instability. Sometimes when we see things along those lines, like Brexit. That could be rationalized as a disastrous combo plate of successful propagandization by those who believed they could execute a plutocratic land grab sweeping along lots of groups that had real grievances, but either ones with UK leadership that were shifted onto the EU or some actually with the EU but that Brexit wouldn’t solve. But it’s hard to make any sense of what EU leaders think they are accomplishing in their latest round of sanctions against Russia. Oh, and in case you lost count, this is the sixth package.
In the US, you can at least attribute our putative leaders regularly selling ordinary citizens out the fact that they are really serving super rich, whose interests virtually never align with ours. But that doesn’t make as much sense with respect to Europe’s Russia sanctions obsession. German industrialists have to be sweating bullets over the prospects of high energy costs and even shortages making them uncompetitive. Sure, some may be able to use an EU energy train wreck as an excuse to accelerate shifting production to Asia and other cheaper locations outside Europe. But the war-mongering explanation for the US, state capture by arms merchants, isn’t strongly operative there.
For the details: this sixth package gets the EU its much-sought-after embargo of Russian oil, although it’s only a partial embargo, thanks to prime minister Viktor Orban acting like a bad Hungarian populist rather than a good European. Orban threatened to veto a full-bore embargo since all of Hungary’s oil comes via the Druzhba pipeline. By contrast, most of the EU’s oil comes by tanker, which as we’ve pointed out and Alexander Mercouris has confirmed, allows for Russian oil to still come to Europe via out and out laundering through cut-outs and mixing with non-Russian source product, albeit at a higher cost. So landlocked countries on a Russian pipeline can’t cheat while the others can. So after weeks of wrangling, the EU relented and voted through the Hungarian scheme. The summary from the Wall Street Journal:
The embargo would include an exemption for oil delivered from Russia via pipelines, an amount that makes up one-third of EU oil purchases from Russia. EU officials said that by the end of this year, the embargo would cover 90% of previous Russian oil imports. It would be phased in over several months….
The moves include the removal of three Russian banks—including the largest, Sberbank—from the Swift financial-transactions network; a ban on three leading Russian broadcasters in the bloc; and targeted sanctions against Russian military officials and other leading figures.
If you think the EU will really, truly, will have cut its imports of Russian oil by 90% in a few months, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. And yet more sanctioning of individuals is a sign that the EU is hitting the bottom of the barrel.
The reason this latest action looks more than a bit confused is it follows a series of calls last week by EU leaders to Putin: Olaf Scholz by himself and then with Emmanuel Macron, Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer, and a presumably less edgy conversation with Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan. Recall that one of the big messaging pushes recently has been to blame Russia for upcoming food shortages and famines and specifically to charge Russia with blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. We’ve described repeatedly that the blockade charge is nonsense: Russia had had one humanitarian corridor open 13 hours every day, but Ukraine mines and port protocols were keeping ships at anchor. Russia cleared mines out of Mariupol and has opened a second port. Plus the focus on shipping omits that a lot of grain is still leaving Ukraine by rail.
And let us also not forget that the outlook for food this year was bad already between climate change and Covid. France, the number 4 wheat producer v. Ukraine as number 5, had a disastrous year. US output is down. Canada’s will be up but our readers contend the headlines exaggerate by how much. But Russia, the biggest wheat exporter, is set to have a bumper year.
So if all these countries really need food, and food scarcities are the number one producer of social upheaval and government overthrow, pray tell how does piling more sanctions onto Russia make sense as they are also asking for more grain and fertilizer? Are they so stuck in their colonialist way of thinking that they think it makes sense to try to harm a country economically while demanding it export to you?
The readouts from the Kremlin of the calls were remarkably similar, suggesting that these European big dogs all had pretty much the same talking points, and Putin had to keep repeating the same response. From the readout of the call from Macron and Scholz:
The parties reviewed in detail the global food security concerns. Vladimir Putin explained the real reasons for the unstable food supplies, saying that the disruptions were due to Western countries’ erroneous economic and financial policies, as well as their anti-Russia sanctions. He substantiated his statements with evidence and specific data. Russia, on the other hand, is ready to help find options for unhindered grain exports, including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports. Increasing the supplies of Russian fertilisers and agricultural produce will also help reduce tensions in the global food market, but that will definitely require the lifting of the relevant sanctions.
Shorter Putin: “What about ‘You have to drop the sanctions’ don’t you understand?”
I hate to be belaboring points that are old news to regular readers, but it’s hard to see anything but disastrous outcomes this winter in Europe, when a lot of households will have to chose among heating their home, fueling their car, and eating enough. And even though the Global South on the whole doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of fuel needs, most countries have much greater food precarity, so they are at even more risk of Arab Spring level uprisings.
So how can the EU be so blind? Have they really convinced themselves that Russia is teetering on the verge of economic disaster despite evidence to the contrary, like the estimates of the GDP fall for 2022 being lowered slightly as export substitution is ahead of schedule, or the central bank again cutting interest rates? How about the fact that shops have plenty of food, food prices aren’t appreciating much, and ordinary Russians aren’t seeing signs of hardship (as in going without European goods and vacations do not make a crisis)? Yes, there may be some reductions in living standards in some sectors, but even to the extent that there are some costs, they are trivial compared to the 1990s…and here Russian overwhelmingly see their national survival at stake. Oh, and Putin just raised pensions by 10%. That arguably just represents an inflation catch-up but it’s a sign that the government has room to maintain social safety nets.
This isn’t the best analogy, since V does wind up dead after this scene, but the consternation of the goons that he is still standing is the closest cinematic parallel I can find to the Western insistence that Russia must be losing economically and militarily despite all evidence to the contrary.
Oh, and it’s the Norsefire party that runs the UK in this film, and they are neofascists.
The point of this clip is the “Why won’t you die?” line.
When I started this website, I regularly joked that I felt like I had walked into the fourth act of Götterdämmerung and was looking for a libretto. I never imagined that image would become more true over time.
Maybe readers can make sense of the EU’s commitment to its self destruction, but I sure can’t. And given how long it take for governments to be voted out, it looks very likely that Europe will inflict permanent damage on itself and its citizens before regime change takes place.