By Jim Geraghty, National Review
One of the problems with using economic sanctions as your primary tool of deterrence in foreign policy is that eventually you’ll run into a hostile foe or force that does not care about trading with the U.S. or even money at all. In fact, it is fair to wonder how much money motivates any of America’s current foes.
The Taliban certainly don’t particularly care about money; they think they’re on a mission from Allah. Iran has been hit with just about every sanction in the book, and no doubt it’s had an impact on the Iranian economy, but the mullahs don’t seem to care much. Kim Jong-un and the North Korean regime have been sanctioned many, many times, and they just keep getting better and better at evading them. The U.S. and China are too economically intertwined to easily enact sanctions that are serious enough to alter the decision-making in Beijing.
And then there’s Vladimir Putin’s Russia — a government that foresaw the types of moves the West was likely to make, and prepared accordingly:
Russia has drastically reduced its use of dollars, and therefore Washington’s leverage. It has stockpiled enormous currency reserves, and trimmed its budgets, to keep its economy and government services going even under isolation. It has reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports.
But even more than that, for a greedy kleptocrat, Putin doesn’t seem primarily motivated by money or his country’s economic prospects. Putin’s address Monday was a long stream of grievances, and it is clear that what really enrages him is that Russia is not as powerful as it was when he was a younger man and the Soviet Union existed:
It is now that radicals and nationalists, including and primarily those in Ukraine, are taking credit for having gained independence. As we can see, this is absolutely wrong. The disintegration of our united country was brought about by the historic, strategic mistakes on the part of the Bolshevik leaders and the CPSU leadership, mistakes committed at different times in state-building and in economic and ethnic policies. The collapse of the historical Russia known as the USSR is on their conscience.
He characterized the post-Cold War era as a time of “injustices, lies and outright pillage of Russia” and absurdly claimed that, “Russia always worked with Ukraine in an open and honest manner and, as I have already said, with respect for its interests.”
Joe Biden’s foreign policy, in a nutshell, is an attempt to save, resuscitate, and restore the “rules-based international order” and sought “a stable, predictable relationship” with Russia. But Putin never liked the existing “rules-based international order” and was never interested in “a stable, predictable relationship.” Putin wants to see the rules-based international order fail and replaced with an international order where he makes the rules, at least for his neighboring states.
The cover of this week’s Economist depicts Putin painting himself into a corner, and argues that no matter the outcome of the Ukraine conflict, Putin has already harmed his country. The editors point out that Russia exports a lot more gas to Europe than China, and contend that, “Mr. Putin can either live with this interdependency or turn further towards China. Yet that would condemn Russia to being the junior partner of an unsentimental regime which sees it as a diplomatic sidekick and a backward source of cheap commodities. That is a yoke Mr. Putin would chafe under.”
I wish that were the case, but I’m not so sure. From Moscow, China looks like the confident, rapidly rising power, and the U.S. and Europe look like the internally divided, declining powers. By partnering with China, Russia can rewrite the rules of the international order in its favor and rub the West’s noses in it.
Read more at National Review.