Friday, 4 March 2022

How serious are we?


To date, the EU has managed to sanction 680 individuals associated with the Putin regime, whereas the UK has managed to reach the grand total of 8. This is, according to the UK government an example of the way in which post-Brexit UK is ‘leading the world’. I wouldn’t like to speculate about the result if we weren’t world-leading. Unsurprisingly, the UK’s foot-dragging is leading to a certain amount of frustration in other European capitals who cannot understand why the UK, uniquely, is so willing to give the individuals enough advance notice to move their assets out before they get frozen. They obviously don’t understand Conservative Party funding. One Home Office minister, Damian Hinds, told the BBC that “it was not a competition”, a statement which would sound a great deal more sincere if his boss wasn’t always trying to present whatever the UK does as world-leading, a description which sounds more than a little competitive to me. (And, as an aside, I find myself wondering about the wisdom of allowing Russian billionaires to sell their assets to Chinese billionaires, as some of them are reportedly trying to do, as though that might not merely be storing up new problems for the future. For Ukraine, see Taiwan.)

Whether sanctioning individuals will be effective or not is another question; it sounds to me a bit like the old “we must do something – this is something” rather than a seriously thought-out attempt to influence events. A wider and more far-reaching trade embargo is more likely to have an impact, but is being weakened by the determination of some countries to continue paying hard foreign currency to Putin’s Russia for oil and gas (even if they’ve stopped trying to get exemptions for Gucci handbags). It’s easy enough to understand why a country like Germany (which gets around 49% of its gas imports from Russia) will be more reluctant to end the trade than the UK, which gets only a few percent of its total gas supply from that source. But if Europe, collectively, wanted to make a difference (and it’s a pity that the UK no longer even has a seat at the table, let alone that it takes an entirely selfish attitude), there are surely methods of sharing the pain. The ‘default’ scenario is that, if the gas is cut off, Germany loses almost half of its total supply, whilst the UK loses only around 4% of its supply. Without crunching the numbers in detail, and pulling a figure out of the air as an example, would the world be a better or a worse place if the countries of Europe agreed, in the short term at least, to share what gas is available from non-Russian sources so that everyone gets, say 80% (or whatever the percentage is when the numbers are fully analysed) of what they need? It would be painful for all, but the pain would at least be shared, and it might be a lot easier to get buy-in to shutting down the supplies on that basis.

I don’t doubt that some would argue that ‘we’ shouldn’t have to lose out because other European countries have allowed themselves to become dependent on an unstable trading partner (although I seem to remember them telling us in another context that ‘pooling and sharing’ is a good thing), but if that argument trumps the need to oppose blatant imperialism, then we might as well hand victory to Putin now and open negotiations about which other bits of Europe he wants. Supporting people through a period of high prices and scarcity would be expensive, but the pandemic surely proved that the availability of money really isn’t a problem in an emergency. And I note that no-one seems to be asking where we are finding the funds to ship vast amounts of armaments to Ukraine: as ever, the government can find money for things that they want to fund.

The question remains: how serious are we, really, about stopping Putin, and what are we prepared to sacrifice to achieve that?


dafis said...

Your final point about shipping armaments is most relevant especially when the funds don't exist for other projects to deal with poverty hunger and other forms of oppression. I don't mind shipping war materials to Ukraine - they need it to defend their freedom. However the sales of even more arms to likes of the Saudis to inflict misery on Yemenis who are already blighted by an apocalypse of Saudi making raises massive questions about UK Gov's capacity to make moral judgments about any conflict.

Spirit of BME said...

I think part of the answer to the delay is that those Russians with wonga are taking issue with the order under English Human Rights legislation and our system of government where you are innocent before proven guilty of any crime.
In the EU, the Human Rights bar and the system of government is lower, so we have seen a swift response to this call for justice or revenge.
The Opposition in Westminster are complaining about what they see as lack of will, but caution should be the order of the day, as this same law protects those that land here without papers and those that are hauled of aircraft during deportation.
The Boy Johnson has the eye on the long game, as you suggest and I think the leader of the Labour Party -Mr Starman, should dig out his old law books.

John Dixon said...


Your point about needing to comply with the law is a good one; and of course the same laws provide at least a degree of protection to all of us. However, coming from the government, the argument would sound a good deal more convincing if they hadn't been turning a blind eye to the source of the wealth from which their friends in the City - to say nothing of their own party - have been benefitting for the last couple of decades. Given the number of times they've promised to clamp down on it, one might have supposed that there was someone, somewhere, who'd given a bit of thought to how that might be done. Where's the 'oven-ready' plan when it's needed?.