Poor Ukraine, so far from God and so close to Russia

It’s been a while since I’ve written on Russian aggression against Ukraine, My opinion now is as it was then: Ukraine is a sovereign country, entitled to its own foreign policy, and Russia has absolutely no right to dictate how Ukraine will govern itself or choose its alliances. Of course, that didn’t stop Vladimir Putin, whose Russia annexed Crimea and invaded and continues to occupy a piece of southeastern Ukraine.[1] I remain disgusted with those whose sole criterion for supporting a country lies in its antagonism to the United States.[2]

The question is what will stop Putin and the simple fact is that the U.S. has no good options. Apparently, sanctions, but not such as those Joe Biden threatens,[3] can be more effective than I thought under very specific circumstances:

All the economic sanctions in the last four decades or five decades have had less than a two percent impact on the GDP of the target country. Two percent is not a very big figure. Now there are exceptions: the sanctions against Iraq prior to the Gulf Wars had a much bigger impact, probably (about) 15 percent.

The sanctions against Iran probably have an impact prior to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which refers to the international plan concerning Iran nuclear deal] about five percent. So that’s the range of impact.

Now in terms of the political effect of sanctions, that depends a lot on the nature of the target country. If the target country is small or even mid-size, and has a fair amount of conflict within the country or political turmoil within the country, then, in those circumstances, the sanctions have often produced regime change and the existing government has been tossed out in coup or maybe even by elections or whatever. And the new government has come in.

So there are many small African countries, Latin American countries, smaller countries even some Asian countries where this has been the case.[4]

It is not seriously the case of Russia.[5] And, partly based on a concocted narrative, Putin believes his country has vital interests in Ukraine.[6] Sanctions against Russia may hurt ordinary Russians, perhaps even inconvenience the country’s oligarchs. They will not deter Putin.[7]

The latest phone call between Putin and Biden may indeed have been much ado about nothing, or a salve for Putin’s ego, as Julia Ioffe explains,[8] but we can be absolutely assured that Joe Biden’s bluster[9] has no meaning whatsoever for Ukraine.

Which is to say, Biden is bluffing, the Russians surely know it, and the Ukrainians surely know it. It is perhaps unlikely that Putin will order a full-scale conquest of Ukraine. He can, short of this, do massive damage to the country, rendering its independence untenable, and subjugating it nonetheless,[10] and it is this I see as the most likely outcome, simply because there is really nothing to stop him.

Ukraine’s situation sadly reminds me of Mexico’s, as Porfirio Diaz famously said of the latter, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”[11]

  1. [1]David Benfell, “‘Sovereignty’ in Crimea,” Not Housebroken, March 17, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/2014/03/17/sovereignty-in-crimea/; David Benfell, “In the land of the false analogy,” Not Housebroken, August 28, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/2014/03/19/in-the-land-of-the-false-analogy/; David Benfell, “It’s back: The Cold War,” Not Housebroken, August 28, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/2014/04/20/its-back-the-cold-war/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Democracy Now!’s not-so-good interview with Stephen Cohen on the Ukraine,” Not Housebroken, August 28, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/2014/02/20/democracy-nows-not-so-good-interview-with-stephen-cohen-on-the-ukraine/
  3. [3]Meryl Kornfield, “Biden says he warned Putin of ‘severe sanctions’ if Russia invades Ukraine again,” Washington Post, December 31, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/12/31/biden-ukraine-call/
  4. [4]Gary Hufbauer, quoted in Murat Sofuoglu and Melis Alemdar, “Have US-imposed sanctions ever worked?” Turkish Radio and Television, September 24, 2018, https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/have-us-imposed-sanctions-ever-worked-20428
  5. [5]Murat Sofuoglu and Melis Alemdar, “Have US-imposed sanctions ever worked?” Turkish Radio and Television, September 24, 2018, https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/have-us-imposed-sanctions-ever-worked-20428
  6. [6]Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s ‘Nightmare’ Threat to Europe,” Puck News, December 6, 2021, https://puck.news/putins-nightmare-threat-to-europe/; Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 12, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/12/ukraine-putin-s-unfinished-business-pub-85771
  7. [7]Murat Sofuoglu and Melis Alemdar, “Have US-imposed sanctions ever worked?” Turkish Radio and Television, September 24, 2018, https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/have-us-imposed-sanctions-ever-worked-20428
  8. [8]Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s Talk Therapy,” Puck News, December 31, 2021, https://puck.news/putins-talk-therapy/
  9. [9]Meryl Kornfield, “Biden says he warned Putin of ‘severe sanctions’ if Russia invades Ukraine again,” Washington Post, December 31, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/12/31/biden-ukraine-call/
  10. [10]Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 12, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/12/ukraine-putin-s-unfinished-business-pub-85771
  11. [11]Porfirio Diaz, quoted in John Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Justin Kaplan, ed., 17th ed. (New York: Little, Brown, 2002).

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