Russian Invasion of Ukraine 15: Sanctions and Signalling

After watching Carl Bildt’s appearance at Amanpour, it becomes clear that we share a few important ways of looking at the at the conflict. Which, on a side-note, some would find a compliment, and other not.

I have since the start of the conflict, almost a month ago, emphasised how important he signalling and communication element is, something Carl Bildt also emphasised in that Russia is reacting to events as they go along. Apologies if I’m getting repetitive, but as we all know, the mother of knowledge is repetition.

This is important for understanding the difference with a strategy and a plan. A plan is static whereas a strategy is about adaptability in changing circumstances with mutually interdependent actors in order to achieve an goal. I don’t believe Russia had a strict plan of what to do regardless of the Western response and actions, and if you buy into that, Western signalling becomes essential.

Therefore, I was disappointed for the weakness of the first round of sanctions before the formal annexation of Crimea, but at the same time, there are sensible arguments for letting Putin destruct  and focusing on development of Ukraine as the ultimate way to beat Putin. However, correct as the approach might have been to offer Russia to take the most profitable way out for all parties, it misses the signalling part which I’ll try to summarise so far as:

Russia: We’re sending some military guys to take the parliament, will anything happen?
West: This is problematic, maybe we should say something angry?
Russia: Let’s back them up with securing the airports, let’s call them self-defence troops
West: That’s bad, but OK
Russia: Fine, let’s support these fellows and go for some military bases
West: Oh my, oh my, what should we do?
Russia: Great, let’s have a referendum
West: Maybe if we threaten Russia a bit and mention Hitler and Sudentenland?
Russia: Let’s prepone the referendum before the West get’s there act together
West: Hitler and Sudentenland!
Russia: Yes, but we soon got Crimea.
West: We’ll sanction seven people without economic importance to give you a last chance
Putin: Vote gave us 96.77%, all of Crimea belongs to me.
West: Ok, time to get our act together…

…and that’s more or less were we are. On Thursday, the US ‘slapped’ (can’t we find a better name for it?) another round of sanctions that included high-level people as Sergei Ivanov, Mastercard and Visa-transactions and stopping Bank Rossiya to trade in dollars. President Obama further said mining, energy and energy will also be included. The EU has yet to conclude sanctions, but it seems that they will overlap to the largest degree with the American ones.

In sum, what Carl Bildt said would seriously threaten Russian economic interests. Bildt further warned, and saw quite likely, further Russian moves in Ukraine since Kiev and not Crimea is the goal. Russian counter-sanctions are ridiculous not worth mentioning.


This is why in my last post, I found support for saying that a major recast of Russia’s relations with the world is under way, not a new Cold War, but it’s clear that Russia has crossed a boundary too far with the annexation, and that is nothing the history of Crimea or that there are a percentage of far-right nationalist in the Ukrainian government will change. At least this will be crucial enough for France to move closer to delivering Mistrals to Russia (a really bad idea for the start) which would cost €1,2 billion if the Russian oligachs in London was hit.

This is important, not mainly because it would make Russia withdraw from Crimea, but from communicating that this is an extremely serious violation of norms of order and to deter (yes, I said deter) from further moves.

Even if Crimea would be enough for Russia strictly territorially, the goal of keeping a negative veto in Ukraine will still be alive until this regime and/or the post-25 May fall and this will be done by a variety of means including subversion, sabotage, trade-barriers and pressure through energy.

So a proper response to the annexation is not only about helping Ukraine to “become a Poland” (they had the same GDP after the fall of the USSR, now Poland have about four times), it is also about sending a signal that further aggressive moves will be met with serious costs.

That is why, these sanctions, together with the counter-moves Russian will feel forced to make, will create a recast of Russia’s relations with the world which has serious long-term consequences.

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