Source: Asia Times
"If we come to a minefield, our infantry attacks exactly as if it was not there" ~~ Marshal Georgy Zhukov
Let's start with the serious stuff. As Russia's Federation Council ratifies a treaty with Crimea, concluding the formal annexation, Ukraine signs the political chapters of an association agreement with the European Union (EU). The signing of the full EU agreement will only happen later in 2014.
These are the facts on the ground. Now let's turn to comedy hour -- also known as the sanctions war.
The EU is irretrievably split on what to do. Whatever it does, Moscow's capacity to make the EU badly hurt is stronger. There may be another meek set of sanctions next week, as Merkel advertised. But that's it.
European poodle action mirrors His Master's Voice -- as in US President Barack Obama solemnly imposing, by executive order, further sanctions on "senior officials of the Russian government." Other US targets are private businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Only exceptionalist logic legally allows sanctions on private individuals deemed responsible for political steps taken by the country they live in. International lawyers should have thought about sanctioning the entire US population for the Bush-Cheney junta's disaster.
I love a man in sanction uniform
Sanctioned Russians are not exactly quaking in their made-in-London brogues. After all, the practical impact of these sanctions is exactly zero. And most people targeted have minimal direct links with the US.
The original American list included Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin and presidential aide Vladislav Surkov. They laughed it off, loudly -- adding it felt like a badge of honor. The expanded list includes key Putin advisers and even some of his friends.
Obama, Iran-style, sanctioned the Bank of Russia -- a minor player (less than US$10 billion in assets; compare it with giant Sberbank at $528 billion). But Bank of Russia is used by some Gazprom subsidiaries for some low-key deals -- even as Gazprom owns its own bank, GazpromBank. The "message" here is that Washington is watching Gazprom.
Chief of Presidential Administration Sergei Ivanov is a key adviser on Ukraine and a top negotiator with the US, the EU and NATO. The -- counterproductive -- "message" implied here is that Moscow and Washington are not talking anything substantial in the immediate future. So much for the West's "diplomatic efforts."
Then there's Yuri Kovalchuk, a board member of the Bank of Russia, a key business adviser and -- allegedly, no conclusive evidence -- Putin's personal banker. The message here is of the "I'm gonna git you sucka" kind.
Finally, among the notables, there's Gennady Timchenko, who has absolutely nothing to do with Ukraine. He's an energy deal operator, controlling oil and natural gas trading firm Gunvor. In this case, the "message" is that the US will target Russia's energy deals. Message void, because the EU -- which needs Gazprom badly -- is not inclined to sanction Timchenko.
Other sanctioned include the head of the Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov, Chief of Military Intelligence Igor Sergun and Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin.
They are all part of the Russia-US team involved in the Northern Distribution Network -- the long, across-Central Asia highway that will allow NATO to flee Afghanistan. A swift Moscow counter-attack would be to leave the Americans and Europeans hanging dry -- or to close the NDN altogether.
I want to be sanction-free
Moscow, predictably, struck back. The Russian Foreign Ministry has "repeatedly" stressed that using sanctions is a "double-edged thing" and it will have a "boomerang" effect against the US.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).