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Removed Diplomacy: Why U.S. Sanctions Against Russia Have Gone Stale

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Since 2014, Russian and American diplomacy has been defined by economic sanctions. This has become the default, expected option for U.S. policymakers—but Russia has refused to concede, repent and ask for forgiveness. The U.S. had hoped Russia would experience just enough economic hardship that they would revert their course, retract their reunification with Crimea, and end any involvement in Eastern Ukraine. Almost seven years later, there is no evidence to suggest that Russia has any intention of buckling under the pressure and denying its national interests.

What the United States has failed to realize is that sanctions work on highly dependent countries. Russia is an independent country and has become more economically autonomous as a result of U.S. sanctions. The Russian domestic industry has flourished since sanctions were first imposed. Sanctions imposed by the United States are predicated on some combination of the following: either the United States has enough of an economic relationship prior to sanctions, so the loss of the United States as a trade partner alone is hugely detrimental to the target economy, or the United States can influence other countries who share a more extensive economic relationship with the target country to carry out the same policies.

Venezuela is a country that has been grievously affected by U.S. sanctions, as one would predict, given the country’s dependence on the exportation of crude oil, particularly to the U.S. With oil comprising roughly 95 per cent of exports and their petroleum industry making up 25 per cent of overall GDP, Venezuela is considered very resource dependent when engaging in international trade. Venezuela has also been plagued by Dutch Disease, which has largely prevented its economy from diversifying for the past century. In 2013, the United States brought in 29.5 per cent of Venezuelan exports and delivered 23 per cent of the county’s imports. Strangely, despite the sanctions imposed in 2014, Venezuela has grown more dependent on the United States. By 2018, 39.2 per cent of Venezuelan exports and 52.9 per cent of Venezuelan imports were in trade with the U.S. With this increased dependence on the United States after the implementation of U.S. sanctions. It is no wonder that Venezuela has been increasingly devastated beyond comprehension since sanctions were first imposed in 2013. Venezuela’s trade balance through this period has consistently been in surplus. However, the volume of trade has shrunk USD 101.9 billion, from USD 143.76 billion in 2013 to USD 41.86 billion in 2018. The country has been rocked by astronomical inflation, reaching as high as 344 509 per cent. Is it the same case for Russia? No, which is due, in part, to Russia’s Soviet legacy. The vast territory and harsh climate have also helped the Russians develop a much more diverse and independent economy. Additionally, the United States is simply not one of Russia’s main trade partners.

As illustrated by data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Russia and Venezuela couldn’t be more unalike. Russia’s largest trade partners for the past 20 years have been Germany and China. In 2014, when the sanctions were first imposed, Russia’s economy and international trade figures were at an all-time high. In that year, Russia exported USD 454 billion and imported USD 296 billion, a trade surplus of USD 158 billion. This year, the United States only accounted for 5.58 per cent of Russia’s imports and 3.87 per cent of Russia’s exports. In 2018, with even stricter sanctions imposed, Russia exported USD 427 billion and imported USD 231 billion, increasing the trade surplus from USD 158 billion in 2013 to USD 196 billion in 2018. Russia’s trade balance from 2013 to 2018 still experienced a shrink of USD 92 billion. A key difference between Russia and Venezuela is that from 2014 to 2018, Russian trade decreased by just 12 per cent, compared to Venezuela’s loss of 71 per cent. What does Russia have working to its advantage that Venezuela is lacking? Remember, for sanctions to work, they require high economic dependence from either the country issuing the sanctions.

Russia and Germany have an interesting codependency on one another. The Nord Stream project has been a source of tension between the U.S. and Germany; a recent Bloomberg article points out that there is an anticipated clash between newly elected president Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German chancellor openly supports the completion of the second pipeline because the project is a means for securing German influence over Western Europe, as they will maintain their status as energy distributors once the pipe project is complete. Merkel also understands that the German economy depends on Russian energy. Nord Stream has become the only option since the Ukrainian pipelines have gone cold. Merkel has received criticism from those close to her, including from Norbert Röttgen, the head of the foreign affairs committee in German parliament. In September of 2020, he is quoted saying, “We need to respond with the only language that Putin understands, the language of natural gas,” Meaning the one thing that Germany has at its disposal is the ability to back out of the Nord Stream deal to pressure the Kremlin into correcting their behaviour to satisfy western leaders. The only problem is that Germany is dependent on Russian natural gas. Germany has been falling behind other European countries in environmental efforts and has grown more dependent on coal power to supplement energy demand when renewable sources fail to meet the needs of the German people.

It’s important to consider is the continuation of oil trade between the Netherlands and Russia. If the West is so concerned about preserving its ideals, why hasn’t this trade been pressured? Likely because Nord Stream 2 is a relatively recent development, but the arrangement between the Dutch and Russia has been around for some time. What is odd, however, are the numbers. Between the Netherlands and Russia, there is hardly a difference in the dollar value of Russian exports in various petroleum products. It has maintained an average of about USD 33 billion for the past decade. This spans time both before and after sanctions. How does the West expect itself to be taken seriously if it is hyper selective about the battles it chooses to fight even when concerning sanctions. What is more comical about this particular deal is that the Netherlands supplies much of Western Europe’s oil. Henceforth, further defending the point of Western Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

In conclusion, Russia has proven to be very resilient over the past six years. It shouldn’t be implied that the sanctions have not affected the Russian economy. However, Russians have faced pervasive negative externalities, such as inflation and decreased average national income, despite the sanctions having been designed only to affect a select group of individuals. Even so, the Russian economy is growing and proving to be insulated and resilient against increased trade barriers. At first, the sanctions appeared to have a tremendous effect on the Russian economy, shrinking it by 44 per cent from USD 2.292 trillion in 2013 to USD 1.272 trillion in 2016. Since 2016, however, the GDP has steadily stabilized and gained back 42 per cent of losses from 2013 figures at USD 1.7 trillion as of 2019. It can be surmised that if the U.S. continues to impose sanctions on Russia for years to come, the Russian economy will continue to grow, develop, and become more independent.

From our partner RIAC

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Weakness or calculation? How the pandemic undermined the US world leadership

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Anyone watching the numerous doomsday movies, happily churned out by Hollywood, will see American doctors saving the planet from space-borne viruses and the plague epidemic that turn people into zombies. However, the very first serious test in a decade has shown that the US healthcare system is actually inferior even to the Russian one, created during the Cold War years. And this despite the fact, that for the past 30 years, the Russian medical system has been suffering from “optimizations,” cuts and underfunding. Moreover, while the Kremlin, even for propaganda reasons, has managed to provide real assistance to a number of European countries, and has been the first to launch a vaccine on the market, Washington’s actions can be regarded as a sign of weakness, and a very dangerous one to its allies at that.

More than a year after the start of the global lockdown, we can already sum up the initial results, which look disappointing to Washington. The US healthcare system has collapsed under the pressure, thus laying bare the country’s inability to bring the outbreak of a less-than-deadly disease under control. As for Russia, despite its lack of America’s vast resources, it still managed to win the vaccine race and become the first to come up with a viable antidote.

More importantly, Moscow has also come out on top in the information “war” with the West, with its Sputnik V vaccine proving to have far fewer side effects than its Pfizer and Moderna counterparts. Therefore, the US and British lobbying of their own vaccines, and their attempts to close the European market for the Russian vaccine look unethical, to say the least, all the more so amid numerous European media reports about people having  died from side effects after being inoculated with Western vaccines. At the same time, there are simply no reports about similar complications caused by the Russian vaccine, even though the European Commission and Brussels have been keeping a close eye on the effects of its use in European countries, including Serbia and Hungary, which have already taken the first deliveries of the Sputnik V vaccine.

What is the reason for the US demonstrating its weakness? How come that in the midst of the epidemic Washington was unable to find the resources to demonstrate its readiness to lend a helping hand to its European allies? Unfortunately, one of the reasons was that the Americans simply freaked out. The truth is, the US healthcare system is rather decentralized and unorganized. People with good health insurance have little to worry about. However, in a situation of a pandemic, the US medical facilities are pretty hard to manage, so one has to do it manually. Compounded by the general atmosphere of panic and the fact that the poorest strata of society, who have no health insurance and constitute the main risk zone (obesity due to malnutrition, advanced chronic diseases and other COVID-inducing conditions), the system simply collapsed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Trump administration tried to keep maximum resources at home. Moreover, the businessman-turned-president, who had openly spoken about “exporting security,” never missed a chance to make it clear to his allies that US assistance is never free. As a result, he was replaced by Biden, a Democrat who advocates maximum support for all democratic forces. However, Democrats usually provide moral or military support, but they have proved equally unprepared to line up any serious assistance to the countries hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Moreover, it was actually at the suggestion of the United States and the UK that the COVAX system, a global initiative aimed at providing equitable (but not free) access to COVID-19 vaccines for countries in need, stalled. It turned out (who might have guessed?) that both the US-developed Moderna and the British AstraZeneca vaccines are primarily needed by their own electorates, and only then by countries that need them, but are unable to produce their own vaccine. Meanwhile, India with a population of over 1 billion, managed to fulfill its obligations, and Russia is ready to launch the production of vaccines in Europe. However, bending under Washington’s pressure, the European Union has banned the import of Russian, Indian and Chinese vaccines, without bothering to explain the reasons for this ban.

A country, claiming world domination cannot lead in everything, of course.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the healthcare systems of many European countries, like Sweden and Switzerland, are way better that what they now have in the United States. That being said, the world leader still bears full responsibility for its allies and cannot leave them to their own devices, not only in the event of a military conflict, but also in the midst of a pandemic. However, this is exactly what it did…

From our partner International Affairs

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The legacy of 2020, and 2021 in the prospects of the United States and China

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image source: cnn.com

2020 was a crucial year because of Covid-19, which disrupted the evolution of the world order in the direction of differentiation and transformation. This is the most severe crisis the human world has faced since the Second World War.

As of 10 May 2021, According to the Hopkins University Global New Crown Epidemic Statistics Report, as of May 10, 2021 there have been 158,993,826 confirmed cases worldwide and 3,305,018 deaths.

The pandemic is like a fatal global social test. On the basis of a world order that has already undergoing a crisis, it has not only caused a pause and thus a deceleration of economic development, but it has also stepped up social division and the transfer of power from the political to the technical sphere.

Although the most experienced analysts and leading research institutions have published various reports, currently none of them can accurately predict in detail the huge impact of the pandemic on the history of the 21st century.

The pandemic, however, will bring about major changes in four areas.

Firstly, it will accelerate the general trend of global economic recession and differentiation. This is due to the currency over-issue policies adopted by several countries and to intensified domestic social polarisation. Since 2018 the global economic and financial crisis has not yet been solved. On the contrary, the crisis has only been concealed by the short-term response of monetary policy.

Secondly, the pandemic will speed up internal changes and the reorganisation of the international political and economic order precisely due to internal social differentiation. Owing to the turbulent influence of domestic and international policies, economic and political risks in fragile regions of the world will intensify or have knock-on effects.

Thirdly, the pandemic will strengthen the digital society and competition between countries in building new technologies will become more intense. The most significant impact of digital society is the silent arrival of a transparent society that exists but has no human contacts.

Fourthly, the pandemic promotes the rise of vaccine nationalism and accelerates the revival of the community value of East Asian countries, which has epochal significance from the perspective of the history of world civilisation.

The most influential political and economic event in 2020 was the US elections and the related change of Administration. The US elections represented the sharpest but also the most frustrating change in US history. Although Donald Trump lost the election, 74,216,154 citizens voted for the outgoing President.

For the United States, the change in direction cannot be seen as the advent of a resolute and determined policy along one single line, as the basic reality of the highly divided American society was not changed, but indeed strengthened due to the general election. The huge impact promoted the spread of political violence and protests in the United States.

Source: The US Crisis Monitor, Bridging Divides Initiative, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs’, Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.

First of all, Donald Trump lost the election, but the spectre of Trumpism has remained in the United States and even in Europe, which is generally not conducive to advancing the strategy of developing relations with China.

Secondly, the “antagonism” of the US strategy towards China has not changed radically. Trump hadopened a political-economic dispute with China. Itisparticularlynoteworthythat the younger generation of the Republican leadership isgraduallybecominghostile and negative towards China, and exertsgreatinfluence in Congress.Thisdoesnotfavours world peace.

Thirdly, if this attitude is not contained, it will lead to negative long-term impacts between high-tech decoupling and ideological competition. Finally, China’s policy towards the United States has been perfected and refined: although the government is still adopting a wait-and-see attitude, the voice of seeking cooperation and being rational and pragmatic is still the mainstream in China.

Besides the issue that China will reduce its dependence on the world and increase world’s dependence on China itself, China will reduce its dependence on traditional growth models and increase its care for social, green and environmental sustainability.

The year 2021 is proving that the focus of the analysis of global political and economic trends will still be competition between China and the United States. President Biden’s Administration still regards China as its main strategic competitor, but the methods of addressing the issue are quite different from those of Trump’s Administration. The main difference lies in the fact that President Biden focuses on solving domestic problems and does not exclude the most important issues with China.

President Biden’s Administration has adapted its strategy for China as the influence of major lobbies and interest groups – such as the US finance and military industry – on policy is constant compared to the previous Administration. Nevertheless, the Chinese factor in the chain of global interests keeps higher levels.

Indeed, voices from both parties in the US Congress calling for curbing China’s rise are also increasing.

In short, in terms of China’s policy direction, President Biden’s Administration is expected to oppose a trade war because it harms the core interests of the US business community. However, there are likely to be problems for Taiwan, Xianggang (Hong Kong), Xinjiang Weiwu’er (Uyghur), South China Sea, Xizang (Tibet), as well as other issues.

The possibility of renewed trade negotiations between China and the United States is expected to increase significantly in the future and the US strategy of constructive competition will be reformed.

Regardless of changes in Sino-US relations, China will certainly promote greater bilateral and multilateral investment cooperation, while seeking new development and shaping new models of cooperation.

The key areas which are currently the most important and noteworthy are, firstly, China’s joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and seeking to adhere to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which shows that China’s top leadership has decided to continue the reform strategy of internal and external promotion.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region between the ten States of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and five of their free trade partners: Australia, China, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Japan and New Zealand. These Member States account for approximately 30% of world’s population and GDP, thus making it the largest trading bloc.

The CPTPP, instead, is a draft regional investment and regulatory treaty in which negotiations, until 2014, twelve Pacific and Asian countries participated: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam.

Indeed, between the RCEP and the CPTPP, there is not only the interconnection of the industrial chain and commonality -and more reasons for unity than differences – but also the influence of great powers’ strategic factors.

The main difference between the two is that the CPTPP has higher economic quality requirements, while the RECP is more inclusive. Secondly, the China-EU trade and investment agreement is likely to be signed, which has clear short-term interests for Europe and long-term strategic interests for China. China, however, still needs to take a cautious attitude towards European policy and its legal systems based on double standards. Thirdly, China and Russia are strengthening comprehensive strategic cooperation and there will be new opportunities for their cooperation in the energy and military sectors.

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Why Congress should be rough on Chris Miller at his testimony on Wednesday

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FBI director Chris Wray’s weak congressional testimony in March left most of the Capitol attack questions unanswered and most of us scratching our heads: if the chiefs of the intelligence agencies don’t know, then who does?

As I argued back in March, before Senate Wray picked the low hanging fruit questions — such as confirming that the Trump mob that stormed the Capitol was indeed Trump’s mob and not some other people — while conviniently glazing over the real questions.

This is why the congressional testimony by former acting Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller, this Wednesday matters. The national guard mystery is still the elephant in the room that’s still sitting in the corner in loud, deafening silence.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has been looking for answers from federal intelligence agencies on Trump’s role in the Capitol insurrection since day one. They have knocked on pretty much any door they could think of, requesting information from sixteen offices in total. That brings us to Wednesday when the Committee will hear from Chris Miller, as well as Jeff Rosen, former acting Attorney General, and Robert Contee III, District of Columbia Police Chief, in a hearing titled “The Capitol Insurrection: Unexplained Delays and Unanswered Questions.”

Back in March, when Senate grilled Wray, the FBI director could not answer why the national guard was not sent in to quell the attack. Wray vaguely put the decision on local policy makers, conveniently circumventing federal responsibility.

Then months later, defense officials actually stated that the national guard was delayed for reasons of “optics” and worries over how it would look if Trump’s mob was pushed out forcefully, as they should’ve been. Miller dragged his feet for hours before giving the green light, as he wanted to imagine what exactly the national guard’s intervention will look like. The actual deployment took only 20 minutes, logistically speaking.

Miller has already spoken about Trump’s “cause and effect” words responsible for inciting the Capitol attacks. And some commentators like Sarah Burris at Raw Story already predict that Miller is about to throw Trump under the bus on Wednesday.

But that’s not enough. Where was Miller back then? The delay was his decision and no one else’s. The Congressmen and Congresswomen of the House Oversight and Reform Committee chaired by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, should not go easy on Miller only because now, after the fact, he is willing to speak up against Trump. Now it’s easy. Now it doesn’t count.

Trump removed Secretary of Defense Esper over his objection to sending the national guard on the Black Lives Matter movement that sparked up exactly one year ago. That’s why Trump replaced Esper with Miller. Miller could have also said no to Trump but he played along. That’s why Miller doesn’t get to play hero now. There are no heroes in the Trump Administration’s aftermath. Some “cause and effect” talk and hypocritical outrage after the fact don’t count. Now doesn’t count. The House Oversight and Reform Committee shouldn’t buy this. The time for cheap spins and late awakened conscience is up. Now is the time for real answers. Miller and Rosen should get a rough ride on Wednesday. Anything else would not be acceptable.

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