From the Saker.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
I just took a short break from my life in “meatspace” to comment upon the great news of the day: Russia is introducing a full 12 months embargo on the import of beef, pork, fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish, cheese, milk and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and the Kingdom of Norway.
Russia is also introducing an airspace ban against European and US airlines that fly over Russian airspace to Eastern Asia, namely, the Asia-Pacific Region, and is considering changing the so-called Russian airspace entry and exit points for European scheduled and charter flights. Furthermore, Russia is ready to revise the rules of using the trans-Siberian routes and will also discontinue talks with the US air authorities on the use of the trans-Siberian routes.
Finally, starting this winter, Russia may revoke the additional rights issued by the Russian air authorities beyond the previous agreements. This is such an interesting and major development that it requires a much more subtle analysis than just the crude calculation of how much this might cost the EU or US. I will attempt no such calculation, but instead I would point out the following elements:
First, this is a typically Russian response. There is a basic rule which every Russian kid learns in school, in street fights, in the military or elsewhere: never promise and never threaten – just act. Unlike Western politicians who spent months threatening sanctions, the all the Russians did was to say, rather vaguely, that they reserve the right to reply. And then, BANG!, this wide and far-reaching embargo which, unlike the western sanctions, will have a major impact on the West, but even much more so on Russia (more about that in an instant).
This “no words & only action” tactic is designed to maximize deterrence of hostile acts: since the Russians do not clearly spell out what they could do in retaliation, God only knows what they could do next! 🙂 On top of that, to maximize insecurity, the Russians only said that these were the measures agreed upon but not when they would be introduced, partially or fully, and against whom. They also strongly implied that other measures were under consideration in the pipeline.
Second, the sanctions are wonderfully targeted. The Europeans have acted like spineless and brainless prostitutes in this entire business, they were opposed to sanctions from day 1, but they did not have the courage to tell that to Uncle Sam, so each time they ended up caving in. Russia’s message to the EU is simple: You wanna be Uncle Sam’s bitch? Pay the price! This embargo will especially hurt southern Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Greece) whose agricultural production will greatly suffer from it. These countries also happen to be the weakest in the EU. By hitting them, Russia is maximizing the inevitable friction inside the EU over sanctions against Russia.
Third, not only will EU carriers suffer from much higher costs and flight times on the very important Europe to Asia route, but the Asian carriers will not, giving the latter a double competitive advantage. How is that for a way to reward one side while hurting the other? The EU got one Russian airline in trouble over its flights to Crimea (Dobrolet) and for that the entire EU airlines community could end being at a huge disadvantage vis-à-vis its Asian counterparts.
Fourth, Russia used these sanctions to do something vital for the Russian economy. Let me explain: after the collapse of the USSR, Russian agriculture was in disarray, and Yeltsin only made things worse. Russian farmers simply could not compete against advanced western agro-industrial concerns which benefited from huge economies of scale and expensive and high-tech chemical and biological research, which had a full chain of production (often through large holdings) and a top quality marketing capability.
The Russian agricultural sector badly, desperately, needed barriers and tariffs to be protected form the western capitalist giants, and, instead Russia voluntarily abided by the terms of the WTO and then eventually became a member. Now Russia is using this total embargo to provide a crucially needed time for the Russian agriculture to invest and take up a much bigger share on the Russian market. Also, keep in mind that Russian products are GMO-free, and they have much less preservatives, antibiotics, colors, taste enhancers, or pesticides.
And since they are local, they don’t need to be brought in by using the kind of refrigeration/preservation techniques which typically make products taste like cardboard. In other words, Russian agricultural products taste much better, but that is not enough to complete. This embargo now gives them a powerful boost to invest, develop and conquer market shares.
Fifth, there are 100 countries which did not vote with the US on Crimea. The Russians have already announced that these are the countries with which Russia will trade to get whatever products it cannot produce endogenously. A nice reward for standing up to Uncle Sam.
Sixth, small but sweet: did you notice that EU sanctions were introduced for 3 months only, “to be reviewed” later? By introducing a 12 month embargo, Russia also sends a clear message: who do you think will benefit from this mess?
Seventh, it is plain wrong to calculate that EU country X was exporting for Y million dollars to Russia and to then conclude that the Russian embargo will cost Y million dollars to EU country X. Why is it wrong? Because the non-sale of these product with create a surplus which will then adversely affect the demand or, if the production is decreased, this will affect production costs (economies of scale). Conversely, for a hypothetical non-EU country Z a contract with Russia might mean enough cash to invest, modernize and become more competitive, not only in Russia, but on the world market, including the EU.
Eighth, the Baltic countries have played a particularly nasty role in the entire Ukrainian business and now some of their most profitable industries (such as fisheries), which were 90% dependent on Russia, will have to shut down. These countries are already a mess, but now they will hurt even more. Again, the message to them is simple: You wanna be Uncle Sam’s bitch? Pay the price!
Ninth, and this is really important, what is happening is a gradual decoupling of Russia from the western economies. The West severed some of the financial, military and aerospace ties; Russia severed the monetary, agricultural and industrial ones. Keep in mind that the US/EU market is a sinking one, affected by deep systemic problems and huge social issues. In a way, the perfect comparison is the Titanic whose orchestra continued to play music while the sink was sinking. Well, Russia is like a passenger who is told that the Titanic’s authorities have decided to disembark him at the next port. Well, gee, too bad, right?
Last, but most definitely not least, this trade-war, combined with the West’s hysterical Russophobia, is doing for Putin a better PR campaign than anything the Kremlin could have dreamed of.
All his PR people need to tell the Russian population is the truth: “We did everything right, we played it exactly by the book, we did everything we could to deescalate this crisis and all we asked for was to please not allow the genocide of our people in Novorussia – and what was the West’s response to that? An insane hate campaign, sanctions against us and unconditional support for the genocidal Nazis in Kiev”.
Furthermore, as somebody who carefully follows the Russian media, I can tell you that what is taking place today feels a lot like, paraphrasing Clausewitz, the “a continuation of WWII, but by other means”, in other words a struggle to the end between two regimes, two civilizations, which cannot coexist on the same planet and who are locked in struggle to death. In these circumstances, expect the Russian people to support Putin even more.
In other words, in a typical Judo move, Putin has used the momentum of the West’s Russia-bashing and Putin-bashing campaign to his advantage across the board: Russia will benefit from this economically and politically. Far from being threatened by some kind of “nationalistic Maidan” this winter, Putin’s regime is being strengthened by his handling of the crisis (his ratings are higher than ever before).
Yes, of course, the USA have shown they they have a very wide array of capabilities to hurt Russia, especially through a court system (in the US and EU) which is as subservient to the US Deep State as the courts in the DPRK are to their own “Dear Leader” in Pyongyang. And the total loss of the Ukrainian market (for both imports and exports) will also hurt Russia. Temporarily. But in the long wrong, this situation is immensely profitable for Russia.
In the meantime, the Maidan is burning again, Andriy Parubiy has resigned, a the Ukies are shelling hospitals and churches in Novorussia. What else is new?
As for Europe, it is shell-shocked and furious. Frankly, my own Schadenfreude knows no bounds this morning. Let these arrogant non-entities like Van Rompuy, Catherine Ashton, Angela Merkel or José Manuel Barroso deal with the shitstorm their stupidity and spinelessness have created.
In the USA, Jen Psaki seems to be under the impression that the Astrakhan region is on the Ukrainian border, while the Russian Defense Ministry plans to “open special accounts in social networks and video hosting resources so that the US State Department and the Pentagon will be able to receive unbiased information about Russian army’s actions”.
Will all that be enough to suggest to the EU leaders that they have put their money on the wrong horse?