Staunton, January 31 – In 1991, when the Soviet Union was living out its last days, a cartoon appeared in an American newspaper which perfectly captured the spirit of what was happening in Moscow and in the West. It showed Mikhail Gorbachev holding a gun to his head and saying “If you try to stop me, I’ll shoot myself.”
Fears in some Western capitals that any “pressure” on Gorbachev, even after he ordered the killings in Lithuania and Latvia, might lead to the collapse of his regime and even the disintegration of the Soviet Union certainly acted as a constraint on those governments, although they did not prevent Gorbachev from being ousted and the USSR from falling apart.
Now, according to former Ukrainian foreign minister Vladimir Ogryzko, some in the West are infected with similar fears that any imposition of serious sanctions on Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine could lead to the collapse of his regime and his country (nv.ua/opinion/ogryzko/slabye-sankcii-zapada-shag-k-ocherednomu-mariupolyu-32042.html).
Commenting on the decision of the EU to keep existing sanctions in place and its promise to toughen them “if the situation deteriorates,” Ogryzko says that this position has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, it shows that Moscow’s hopes for a Greek veto on the extension of sanctions were misplaced.
But on the negative side, he points out that “unfortunately, the EU sanctions have turned out to be quite weak and are not hitting Russia as they should after all that has happened. What is especially disturbing are the comments of some that the EU may do more if Moscow launches a frontal attack on Mariupol or other Ukrainian cities.”
“It seems to me,” the Ukrainian diplomat says, “that this goes beyond all possible and impossible limits. After the terrorist acts in Vonovakha, Donetsk and especially in Mariupol to speak about the introduction of sanctions ‘in the event that the situation deteriorates’ is simply to help the aggressor” because it gives Moscow no reason to stop.
“The reason behind such weak decisions,” he continues, “is that people in the West fear an instantaneous collapse of Russia which would be completely possible if serious economic sanctions were introduced,” sanctions like the exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT banking settlement system.
Various Russian commentators have suggested that more serious sanctions could lead to a Russian collapse. And “apparently,” Ogryzko says, “the economic interests of the West do not allow it to take this step. Now, [its member governments] will wait until the latest ‘if,’ the next Mariupol, the next attack of Russian forces.”