Staunton, September 11 – Moscow has “shifted from the logic of a dispute to the logic of isolation” and is seeking to convince Russians that Western sanctions imposed following the Crimean Anschluss and Russian invasion of the Donbas have nothing to do with those events but rather reflect permanent Western hostility to Russia, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says.
In a lead article today, the editors of that Moscow paper draws that conclusion on the basis of a recent declaration by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov that sanctions will remain in place for a long time because they are intended to limit Russia’s ability to act independently (ng.ru/editorial/2015-09-11/2_red.html).
Ryabkov’s words, the paper says, “reflect a transition to the completely isolationist logic in which the Russian authorities act today;” and that in turn reflects the conclusions of Presidential advisor Sergey Glazyev that Russia must move in the direction of “still greater economic isolation from the West.”
“Initially, immediately after the flight of Viktor Yanukovich, the annexation of Crimea, and the beginning of the conflict in the Donbas,” the editors say, “the logic of the Russian authorities was somewhat different.” Then, it stressed Russia’s “right to defend its ‘own,’ that is the Russian speakers” and drew parallels between Crimea and Kosovo.
No one spoke then, the paper continues, about sanctions remaining in force for any length of time apparently because the Kremlin believed that the West would “recognize their senselessness and cancel them not being able to live without Russia.” Now, the worsening of the economic situation has led to “a change in logic.”
For the Kremlin now, “citizens must be convinced that sanctions are not the result of Crimea or the Donbas.” Instead, a new “’correct’” interpretation is being offered: “the West and especially the United States cannot deal with our stormy growth, wants to slow it, and Ukraine is the occasion for doing so.”
In the former interpretation, there is great room for diplomacy; in the new one, there is little room left because Russian diplomats must soon follow politicians and television commentators in insisting that “’the West always hates us, it wants to ruin us, there is nothing to talk about with it.”
But such a shift raises some questions, the paper’s editors say. “For example, if the Russian authorities always knew that the West would not allow the strengthening of Russia, then why did they so poorly prepare the country for the present and as they assert inevitable pressure on it?”
Other questions also arise: Why didn’t the Russian authorities try to make the ruble less dependent on the price of oil? Why didn’t they try to find alternative sources of credit? And perhaps most important, because of the enormous support they enjoy from the population, why didn’t they use “this resource to carry out systemic reforms?”
If the authorities were not willing to do that in the “fat” years, they certainly will not do so in the “lean” ones now, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” concludes.
Of course, there are at least two other explanations for Ryabkov’s statement, one domestic and one foreign political. Domestically, the Kremlin may fear that ever more Russians will draw a direct line between what Putin has been doing in Ukraine and their current suffering. Such a shift in opinion could threaten the regime.
And in foreign policy terms, Rybkov’s statement may have a double purpose. On the one hand, it may lead some in the West to call for a reduction in sanctions in order to show Russia that the West doesn’t “always” hate it. And on the other, if sanctions are loosened or cut back, the new logic now on offer in Moscow will allow the Kremlin to take credit.