Ukrainians woke up on February 23th to an exploding invasion of their country on three sides. Blasts were recorded in the cities of Odessa, Mariupol and Odessa. Russia had launched direct missiles at Kyiv while long-range artillery hit the north-eastern city of Kharkiv. Citizens began fleeing the country as others took to street-by-street guerrilla warfare.
SEE PART 1 BELOW
And, the West stood by, again. An eerie repeat of February 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. For that manoeuvre, 5 months later in July 2014, Canada, the US and the EU dished out a “slap on the wrist” of economic sanctions. Sanctions that were set to expire in 2016, a mere two years later. Rinse and repeat 8 years later. Sanctions did not save Crimea. Russia maintained its solid hold and illustrated a long-term plan by using occupied Crimea as a gateway into the Ukraine.
Russia will continue nipping at the edges of the bordering countries seeding psychological unrest and fear. This is not a single-state war. It is a “re-claiming” of territory and the potential rebirth of an old empire. It is history.
To the West, it is money, economics. Acceptable collateral damage and loss acceptance compared to future profit value. Generally, there are two types of punitive economic sanctions. One: restricting direct access to Western financial markets and money. This theoretically blocks targeted Russian state-owned enterprises from the banking and defence sectors. Essentially cutting off access to supporting purchases of military supplies and other product suppliers.
The second form of sanction is an embargo. Designed to block access to various technologies that could be used to support manufacturing and/or military actions. Additionally, exports of any designated dual-use or military goods can be slapped on to existing sections.
The 2014-2016 sanctions did push the Russian economy into a recession. The value of the rouble fell, inflation rose, pushing prices on common goods. GDP fell between 3%-3.5%.
Sanctions however are a two-sided sword with economic blood spilled on both sides.
Between 2018 -2019, Russia spent approx $5.8 billion on importing US goods, a decrease of 13.1%. In reverse, US trade data lists Russian imports of over $22.3 billion. Products that included crucial “mineral fuels” at approx. $13 billion, precious metals including platinum;$2.2 billion, iron and steel, $1.4 billion, fertilizers, $963 million, plus other inorganic chemicals at $763 million.” Imports critical to manufacturing highly technological products and now, combined with the pandemic and a faltering Chinese relationship, in very short supply. Taking vodka off the bar drinks menu won’t balance the loss of key imports.
In calculating the costs of the Crimea and, current sanctions, two important factors have been overlooked. First, the very public, political hand-fast“ marriage” with China and her immense resources. Second; Russians as a culture, have been living with severe deprivation even before their 1917 Revolution and, little changed for the general population after it. Surviving under touch conditions is in their blood.
They might hate it but, they are accustomed to it.
Compare that to the American consumer panic that ripped through during the pandemic and current violent protests fuelled by spreading Western inflation and empty store shelves. Losing 3-ply toilet paper or McDonald’s hamburgers won’t hurt Russians. Loss of vital Russian imports will however impact the West. It will immediately drive countries into deeper recessions and further internal unrest. The Russo-Chinese partnership is not a whimsical flirtation. It is a strategic move to dominate the world’s resources and re-shape the geographic and political landscape. It’s a long game.
As Ukrainian refugees flow steadily across the borders of neighbouring countries, global volunteer fighters slip in packing personal weapons to fight alongside Ukrainians.
Private citizen- volunteers who will “die on their own dime”. Not sanctioned NATO troops.
Which begs the question, where are the troops? Political debates on “defending” a non-NATO member leaves Ukraine floundering into a drawn-put conflict that could last years. What happens after the 3-year refugee visas expire? More importantly, old battle wounds could re-surface. Unlike the US, wars in Europe are barely two generations of memory away. One scratch at the wrong scar could spread a virus of simmering, cultural hate.
A Ukrainian military facility in Yavoriv, close to the Polish border was hit, killing 9 and wounding 57 more. “Close to the Polish border”. Read; 66 km or, 41 miles close. Short of reporting the incident, little else has been done by external forces.
Yavoriv being occupied by Russia is not a first. The town was occupied by the Soviets previously from 1939 to 1941. The area surrounding the town, Jaworow has been a battleground between Russia, Ukraine, and Poland since before 1939. (“Polish-Ukrainian War” of 1918-1919) and WWII further scarred the area.
After the German occupation in June of 1941, antisemitic Ukrainians initiated their own Jewish pogrom. The Ukrainian police beat, raped, and brutalized local Jewish families. Hundreds were dispatched to labour camps. In November 1942, German forces together with Ukrainian police, gathered over 1200 Jews, murdering 200 before sending the remaining to the Belzec camp where they were killed.
If Russia takes a Polish village, will that ignite the next World War? We talk about it in hushed voices before retreating into Netflix. Will we turn our faces away, again, thinking “it’s them, not me”. Not Yet.
Historical pain is a scratch away in Europe. Can this explain the current reluctance of neighbouring NATO countries to step in? A shying away from re-visiting not-so-old wounds and guilts? The same deep-seated fear that actually sparked WWII?
If so, we must ask, in the bigger picture, can the world afford the luxury of past guilt in the face of the global impact of current events? Will we, as capitalist countries, driven by our short-term quarterly reviews be able to withstand the global, steady creep of the combined, focused mammoth that is China and Russia?
We feel good, shouting for peace in the face of bullies. We wait. For something to change. For someone else to decide. A question of writing history or, simply re-writing it. We forget, historically, we all bear the consequences. This time, we will all share the pain.