West divided over force of Russian sanctions

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-27 19:48:01

Suspending Russia from the G8 over its actions in Crimea is the latest move in the package of sanctions imposed by the West. Besides the earlier sanctions on some Russian banks and politicians, it seems that the West is reinforcing its restrictive measures to deepen the impact of this round of sanction.

Whether these sanctions can be effective has raised debate in the international community, where two extreme views have been brought forward.

As of now, Western public opinion generally believe that the suspension signals the tough stand of the West against Russia, which will inflict a heavy toll, while others think Russia has nothing to be blackmailed over by the West whose actions will only embarrass themselves.

This is a loss for both Russia and the West. Russia seemingly doesn't care about being suspended from the G8, where it was never treated as an equal and whose influence has much decreased compared with the G20.

But it doesn't mean the West won't shift the focus of sanctions to business and trade, for which they are prepared. Given that the Russian economy is only recovering slowly and its large dependence on the export of energy to the EU, it is hard to conclude that the bear won't be harmed by the sanctions.

The West, especially the EU, will also have to take the risk that their sanctions will backfire and threaten the security of their economies and energy.

Considering that Russia is one of the largest business partners of and a major supplier of energy to the EU, economic sanctions will probably burden the still slumping European economy.

This thorny issue has triggered another debate about whether this round of sanctions is bluffing or looking for real effect.

These actions, with the ultimate purpose of forcing Russia to retreat and restoring the situation to what it used to be before the Crimea crisis, will not achieve the expected results due to the lack of internal unity within the West.

Although being integrated into a unified frontline, the major players within the West have their own considerations.

For instance, the EU doesn't want to lose a ready energy supplier or trade partner, and Japan might have seen the sanctions as an opportunity to promote its relationship with Russia for both economic and political benefits, which means it won't stick to a firm stand in sanctions.

This new round of sanctions is an approach employed by the West in the hope of killing two birds with one stone.

First, it serves as a painful cost that has to be paid by Russia after it took back Crimea. Second, it is of symbolic significance for the West to show the rest of the international community, especially those small allies of the West, that "we care" and "we reacted."

There are still concerns lingering, saying these sanctions, if not managed well, will lead to "Cold War 2.0." These voices ignore the basic fact that Russia, although it seems like the most aggressive party in the Crimea crisis, is actually at a disadvantaged position.

The development of the Ukraine crisis, which was much intervened in by the West, has stepped over Russia's red line in terms of its geopolitical influence. The Russian Bear won't allow the West to push it to the corner before it reacts.

It can be predicted that Russia has no intention to take the momentum and expand much further, because it is fully aware that it is not the Soviet Union. Its national strength cannot support such an ambitious plan.

This article was compiled by Global Times reporter Liu Zhun based on an interview with Li Xing, professor of Russian and Asian affairs from the School of Government, Beijing Normal University. liuzhun@globaltimes.com.cn

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