At this point, regular readers of Op-Ed News are aware of who destabilized Ukraine and forced Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the East to take up arms.But the European and US media have echoed the charges of their governments that "Putin did it." And because he didn't fix it they have slapped sanctions on him and the Russian Federation.
The writer is a Russian-born blogger who hosts a web site called the Vineyard of the Saker. A vegetarian, he was on a short vacation with his wife in celebration of their wedding anniversary when he wrote this on 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 our airspace to Eastern Asia, namely, the Asia-Pacific Region, and is considering changing the so-called Russian airspace entry and exit points for European 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 these routes. Finally, starting this winter, we 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 typical Russian response. There is a basic rule that 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, 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 that, 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 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 back up Uncle Sam? 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-a-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 the Russian agriculture was in disarray, and Yeltsin only made things worse. Russian farmers simply could not compete against advanced western agro-industrial concerns that benefited from huge economies of scale, from 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 from 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 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 that they have much less preservatives, antibiotics, color and 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 that typically make products taste like cardboard. In other words, Russian agricultural products taste much better, but that is not enough to compete. This embargo now gives them a powerful boost to invest, develop and conquer market shares.