My Trivial and Specious Blog on Sanctions
I first reprint Dr. David Goldberg’s response to my blog and then respond to his criticisms.
I am sorry to have to say this, but I find your analysis below a far cry from your usual incisive jugular-directed intellectual dissection of complex events. It would not be entirely unfair to you to describe it as trivial and specious.
Let us start with the 1st paragraph. You make a great song and dance about Crimea being removed from Ukraine without the consent of the citizens of Kiev, but what about the citizens of the Crimea itself? What Cesar gives, Caligula can take away. The Ukranian Kruschev took it from Russia and gave it to the Ukraine. Were the Crimeans consulted? Were they given the benefit of a ballot box —– stuffed or otherwise? Yet I hear not a peep from you, and others of your persuasion, about the illegitimacy of this process that is only now being redressed. It is obvious on the basis of demographics alone and past voting records that the proposition would pass by a large majority. The decision of the Tatars and the Ukranian Opposition in Crimea to boycott the polls was anti-democratic and a puerile attempt to paint the vote as illegitimate. Just as the Bangkok Opposition is doing to bring down the multi-times elected Shinowatra Government. In the better democracies, NOT VOTING is an offence punishable by law (eg Australia). OK,so a few dissidents “disappeared”. Did you check this out for yourself? Do you know these individuals and their families personally? Do you know precisely who “disappeared” them? Regular Russian Army personnel or local street gangs? Playing arm-chair detective is all very well, but evidence has to be tested and corroborated. And the question? I cannot see how it differs substantially from that used in any past or future Quebec Referendum, or the proposition upon which my fellow-Scots will vote next year. Please explain this to a naive simpleton like myself: If I vote YES to Crimea joining Russia, is it not axiomatic that I am simultaneously voting NO to Crimea staying as part of Ukraine. Finally, cutting off communications may not have been a bad thing. At least the violence that plagued Kiev for months was prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized.
Now, as for the West’s response: I think it would have been much better to have done nothing and kept their mouth’s shut. It would have had precisely the same effect as their “micro-nano-Sanctions”, and they would not have made asses of themselves. What effect did Sanctions have on Mugabe and his Zimbabwe supporters? Or Milosevic? Or anyone else? I recall the EU that had banned Mugabe from all travel and even threatened his arrest and transfer to The Hague welcomed him at various conferences with open arms. Cowardice, Hypocrisy and Antisemitism: the three cornerstones of Western Diplomacy. You failed to see the irony in your own text, and the fantasy in your own predictions, when you seemed to suggest that the failure to include Putin and Lavrov in the Honours List was intended to force them to the negotiating table, of which you thought there was an excellent chance. Sure there is. In fact, it is a foregone conclusion, just as Iran came to the same table while their centrifuges keep whirling. Meantime, massive build-ups of Russian troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border continue unabated while Putin and Lavrov are laughing all the way to their banks.
There is only one way to stop Putin’s depredations: to send NATO troops immediately to the Eastern Ukraine as I believe the Ukrainian leaders have suggested, if not requested. And there is only one forlorn hope for having the Crimea returned to the Ukraine in violation of the “democratic rights” of its citizens, if that is what you pretend to call them. That is to convene a meeting of the General Assembly of UNO to debate cancelling Russia’s membership. The West should make it clear, one way or the other, that if it fails, they will withdraw from the organization en mass.
DR DAVID M GOLDBERG, MD, PhD, FRCPC
In response to the criticism about the illegitimacy of the process of annexing the Crimea to Russia, my point was to note the illegitimacy and to query why a the same result could not have been obtained by a significant majority vote legitimately conducted instead of under force of arms, a skewed ballot and the use of non-Crimean voters.
The only place where it is antidemocratic to boycott an election is where voting is compulsory. Of the almost two dozen polities with such legislation, only half enforce it. Neither Crimea nor Ukraine is one of them so the point is irrelevant. Boycotts of elections are used when a process is perceived as fraudulent and the voter does not want to lend legitimacy to an illegitimate process. The fact that election boycotts are rarely efficacious does not make them an illegitimate tactic when groups feel oppressed by a majority. And since when does compulsory voting make a polity a better democracy. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has compulsory voting. Is it a democracy let alone a better one?
On disappearances, Human Rights watch documented and reported on 15 March that with the Russian army present, so-called “self-defense” units and militias, with 11,000 personnel according to Crimean government authorities, were “abducting, attacking and harassing activists and journalists.” “Oleksiy Gritsenko, Natalya Lukyanchenko and Sergiy Suprun have not made contact with friends or family since 11pm on 13 March. Oleksiy Gritsenko’s father told Amnesty International that he believes they have been abducted by paramilitary forces in de facto control in Crimea.” “The mobile telephone signals of both Oleksiy Gritsenko and Natalya Lukyanchenko were located in the vicinity of the military conscription commission (kommissariat) in Simferapol, which is being guarded by military officers who are not wearing any identifying insignia and who deny they are holding the activists there.” “Ihor Kiriushchenko, a civic activist from Sevastopol, was abducted on Monday. Mr Kiriushchenko has been active in helping Ukrainian soldiers in the military units occupied and blocked by Russian forces, as well as in protests. He took part in Sunday’s demonstration in the centre of Sevastopol to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko and protest against Russian military occupation of the peninsula.” He too is still missing. Yesterday a Ukrainian soldier in Crimea was shot.
“The whereabouts of two leaders of the Ukrainian community – Andriy Shchekun and Anatoly Kovalsky – remain unknown following their abduction in Simferopol on Sunday. Volodymyr Sadovyk, commander of a Bakhchysarai military unit, is also missing.” ” The three young women whose disappearance was reported on Sunday – Ukrainsky Tyzhden journalist Olena Maksymentko and two activists – Kateryna Butko and Oleksandra Ryazantseva – are still missing, together with press photographer Oleh Kromples and Yevhen Rakhno, whose car they were travelling in.” “Ukraine‘s Greek Catholic Church said a priest was seized by armed men from a chapel in Sevastopol on Saturday.”
A fair vote in a democracy does require all options to be on a ballot. One could vote NO to annexation with Russia and vote yes for independence, but there was no option that said you prefer the status quo since you must vote once for one of the two propositions on the ballot – annexation or independence. That is the difference between even the imperfect referenda conducted in Quebec.
You argue that, “Finally, cutting off communications may not have been a bad thing. At least the violence that plagued Kiev for months was prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized.” First, since when does an open democratic media contribute to violence. By all accounts, overall, the demonstrations in Maidan were non-violent until the police were sent in. Secondly, I had reported the Estonian Minister quoting the famous doctor helping the wounded saying that the sniper fire seemed to target both sides. The Minister evidently misunderstood Oleh Musiy who subsequently corrected the Minister’s account and my repeating it by saying that only protesters were shot by snipers. 81 were killed. Thank you for the opportunity to clear up this error. Violence did not plague Kyiv for months. Violence was certainly NOT prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized by the suppression of the media.
As far as the effectiveness of sanctions, the whole point of my blog was that these light sanctions were not intended to change Putin’s mind or actions but to send a signal that the West was interested in cooperating with Putin in deescalating the conflict. Nevertheless, sanctions can be effective. They were almost certainly effective re Iran’s nuclear program.
As for the claimed ineffectiveness of sanctions on Mugabe and Milosevic, let me deal with Mugabe first. The real problem is that they have been too effective in disrupting the economy of Zimbabwe but not effective in dislodging Mugabe. The sanctions in Zimbabwe were supposedly targeted against a few individuals. However, as bank studies have shown, the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill and the declared and undeclared sanctions that resulted have impacted on the entire economy. The Zimbabwean government itself has complained that the economy is under siege and has blamed the international community, particularly the US rather than Mugabe’s programs, for the negative downstream effects on vulnerable groups and civilians and led to cancellation of life-line projects, humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian infrastructural development support.
Sanctions can be very effective. The critical problem is how much breadth and strength to lend to them and how to target them to get the impact desired, hence the shift to targeted sanctions that include imposing travel bans and freezing foreign bank accounts more than restrictions on trade which were used in Zimbabwe in restricting access to lines of credit. According to Mugabe’s own government, “Since the imposition of declared and undeclared sanctions against Zimbabwe, the effects of these sanctions have been widespread and continuous.”
As for Milosevic, in Milica Delevic’s study, “Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool” in the International Journal of Peace Studies, sanctions were certainly effective but the real question was whether the costs and unintended harm caused was worth it.” “Sanctions, helped to a great extent by pre-existing economic difficulties and macroeconomic mismanagement, had a devastating effect on the Yugoslav economy, thus helping make Serbian President Milosevic more cooperative, but were of no decisive importance for stopping the war in Bosnia. Moreover, poverty, which increased as a result of the sanctions, made people more receptive to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, making democratization ever more difficult to achieve.”
I am puzzled by your next complaint. Where did I “suggest that the failure to include Putin and Lavrov in the Honours List was intended to force them to the negotiating table”?
Where did you get the evidence that “massive build-ups of Russian troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border continue unabated.” I would like to explore it.
As for the use of NATO, I am wrestling with that in my own mind and plan a future bl;og on the subject.
For additional consideration, readers might want to consult this other blog reference which a reader sent in.
Some excerpts from the Voice of Russia follow.
“Sanctions are just unprofessional and illogical. One of the persons who was so to say cracked down upon, is Elena Mizulina but she never played a particular role in the Crimean affairs or in Russia’s relations with Ukraine. She has been made into some sort of a bogyman by the western media and by the Russian liberal media because she was one of the initiators of this law against homosexual propaganda to minors. But it is strange that this person was included into a law which is supposed to punish people who somehow disturbed the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“I think this Magnitsky list was an excellent warning for everyone in Russia that it is dangerous to keep your assets in the US or in the European Union especially if you are a rich person connected to the Russian government. So, I just consider these sanctions stupid. They are not mild, they are not too harsh, they just hit the wrong targets.”
“Russian lawmakers and the Kremlin have been extremely vocal as to the ridiculousness of US designed sanctions with all Russian MPs passing a statement saying they volunteered to be subject to the US/EU sanctions and the Kremlin saying they view them with irony and sarcasm. Many Russian lawmakers, officials and others see the sanctions list as a point of honor and even as an “Oscar” from Washington, in recognition that they have defended Mother Russia. They echoed earlier words by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, who said he would be honored to be on that list with people who proudly defend their homeland and he added that he would be offended if he did not top it. Personally I would love to be on that list as well, perhaps someone in Washington will take me up on it?”
Sanction America for “Funding, training, arming and supporting neo-nazi elements and then using them to carry out the illegal overthrow of a democratically elected government. Using USAID and other organizations to subvert and manipulate the population of sovereign country. Spending $5 billion of taxpayer money without the knowledge or permission of the people to subvert Ukraine. Attempt to and then organizing a puppet government that does not represent the people. Killing police and protestors. Causing unrest, terrorizing the population and stripping groups of their human right to their language or their very lives. Covering up or ignoring evidence of murder and high crimes. Ordering the overthrow of said government. Placing paid mercenaries on the sovereign territory of a country. Planning false flags attacks. Supporting nazi elements and ignoring Nuremberg Trial denial. Attempting to organize through surrogates terrorist attack against civilians in Crimea, etc., etc”