The short answer is yes, very much so. And much more than it will hurt the EU or the US. Post-Soviet Russia is mainly a producer and exporter of oil, gas and raw materials. Just as Canada, Australia, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela. It has gone through a de-industrialisation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and is now heavily dependent on imports of almost everything. It is the world sixth biggest economy, but it is too small to survive isolated. So sanctions will hurt a lot. But they may also have unintended consequences. Some of them could actually be quite interesting.
Thorbjørn Waagstein, Economist, PhD, since 1999 working as international Development Consultant in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The chemical attack on the rebel held Damascus suburb Eastern Ghouta on August 21 last year brought us very close to a US attack on Syria. It was called off in last minute, after Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered an agreement with the Syrian Government to give up its chemical weapons. But who was behind the Ghouta attack? The US and most Western countries have no doubt: it was the Syrian Government. Russia - after some dithering - ended up pointing to the rebels. However, proofs are very scarce for either accusation. So it leaves at least some of us with an unpleasant feeling of having being taken for a ride – once again.
The US has during the last couple of years blocked Chinese technology firms from entering their market. One of the targets has been Huawei, one of the world's leaders in communication equipment. According to Michael Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, “Huawei and ZTE provide a wealth of opportunities for Chinese intelligence agencies to insert malicious hardware or software implants into critical telecommunications components and systems”. The reason, it becomes clear now, is that this is what NSA makes US companies do. This validates the old saying: Thieves believe everybody else steals.
The story looks simple: The Ukrainian people, fed up with a corrupt and authoritarian government, revolts and chases the President out, reestablishing democracy. Unfortunately they have a big neighbour. Russia, governed by an authoritarian President, Vladimir Putin, who dreams of restoring the Tsarist-Soviet empire. So Ukraine is bullied, a Ukrainian Province (the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) is occupied by the Russians and now the Russians are starting to destabilize the country by all means, threatening to annex the South-Eastern part of the country. And isn't this exactly what Hitler did in 1938 when he annexed Sudetenland, part of Checoslovakia, and later on the rest of the country? As we all know, that led to the Second World War, because the rest of the World was not standing firm against Nazi-Germany at this crucial moment. The implications are straightforward.
The problem with this story telling is that it is too simplified, and the historic parallel is flawed.
Despite much talk on President Assad's imminent fall a year and a half ago, and then the last year or so of a “stalemate”, it is now for everybody to see – whether we like it or not - that the present phase of the Syrian civil war is nearing its end, unless there is direct military intervention from abroad. The apparent decision by the US to provide the rebels with more sophisticated weaponry will only slow this process, not change the outcome. The big question is, however, what comes next?
Most of the cables from US diplomatic staff to their bosses in Washington are boring, and one wonders how they can be brought up in the media as “revelations”, when they are just stating the well-known points of view of the American Government. Iran's government is nasty, Hugo Chávez is a dictator (even if they add that he is not stupid) etc. - yawn! Then there comes some spice, when they talk badly about close allies, as the French President Nicholas Sarkozy or the Italien PM Berlusconi, but frankly – nothing surprising. It is of course funny to see the red ears in Washington, but news?
As the US is overstretching its military power and the centre of gravity of the world economy is shifting towards Asia and Latin America, the formerly so mighty US empire is in decline. With no single new superpower emerging, we are inexorably moving towards a multipolar world. Decline is always difficult to manage and with the unprecedented US military power the process is extremely dangerous. Will the US be able to manage this gracefully?
Two years after the onset of the financial crisis, the US economy still looks very bad. The reason is that the US crisis is not only the result of a real estate bubble and the resulting crisis in the financial sector, but also of a more fundamental lack of competitiveness. The US economy needs a profound restructuring, and there is no simple way to achieve that.
International investors are panicking. The EU and IMF have bailed out Greece, then Ireland and everybody's guess is that Portugal or maybe even Spain may be next. After the bail-out, these countries are in for a long and tough period of austerity and low growth. Is the Argentinian default a decade ago a better alternative?
Joining a stronger currency as the dollar or the Euro seemed for a moment to create economic miracles for many small countries in Europe and Latin America. Now after the financial crisis, this looks more as a road to trouble.