The topic of lifting sanctions against the Russian Federations appears on the international agenda more and more often. However, there is no visible background for such discussions. The war in Ukraine is ongoing for the third year in a row. The ceasefire which was envisioned by the peace settlement of the Minsk Agreements is violated every day.
Some western politicians openly express their open support for Russia, like French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen, who voiced support for Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
However, those who invited a Russian minister to a G20 meeting despite sanctions might consider a warming of relations with Russia just a possibility to go back to normal business. Is this really possible to return to the good old days when there were no restrictions on trade with the Russian Federation, or is it just an illusion which only helps the Kremlin?
Discussions on easing sanctions
Politicians of different kinds expressed signs of readiness to warm up relationships with Russia.
In an interview to the Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump said that sanctions against Russia will be maintained for some period, but did not deny that they also might be lifted:
“If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”
Recently, the new Head of the OSCE and Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz in the interview to Austrian media outlet Osterreich24 said that he wants to change sanctions against Russia from a logic of punishment to a logic of incentives.
The Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation Aleksandr Tkachov has been invited to the G20 meeting in Berlin by Germany despite sanctions forbidding his entrance to the European Union. The meeting will take place on January 22. Not only will this visit of the sanctioned Russian official give him access to western politicians to initiate a discussion on lifting sanctions, it will also demonstrate that sanctions can have exceptions and that these exceptions will be continued. Both points serve the Kremlin well.
Discussions about renewing the economic relationships with the Russian Federation have been also ongoing in Ukraine. Recently the Ukrainian media watchdog Detektor Media revealed how a fake news campaign in Ukrainian media was used for promoting the idea of restoring economic relationships with the Russian Federation.
The initiators of such campaigns are playing on the war fatigue of both Ukrainians and western politicians, and the desire to go back to a normal life. But following these desires by giving the Kremlin concessions will only aggravate the situation.
Samantha Power during her final speech in Washington stated that the policy of lifting sanctions will not lead to positive consequences:
“Now, some have argued that the most effective way to get Russia to start playing by the rules that undergird the international order is actually by easing sanctions. If only we reduce the pressure, they claim, Russia will stop lashing out against the international order. But they have it backwards: easing punitive measures on the Russian Government when they haven’t changed their behavior will only embolden Russia – sending the message that the best way to gain international acceptance of its destabilizing actions is simply to wait us out.”
A look into what Russia needs resources the most for prove her statements have an economic basis.
Russia’s defense expenditures higher than USA & majority of EU
One-quarter of Russia’s expenditures for 2017 are classified as “top secret,” amounting to RUB 800 bn ($ 13.5 bn)
In Autumn 2016, the Russian government announced that the welfare budget will be reduced from RUB 13.1 trillion ($210 bn) to RUB 12.7 trillion ($203 bn). According to the Moscow Times, this spending cut already includes the government’s decision to give pensioners a one off payment of 5,000 rubles instead of indexing pensions at the rate of inflation.
However, some parts of the Russian 2017 budget were considered to deserve more attention.
Thus, Russia covers its military needs at the expense of ordinary Russians without asking them. In October 2016, Arnold Khachaturov, journalist of the Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, described how Russia’s state costs are allocated. He says Russia’s state budget has set a record for opaqueness since the end of the Soviet era.
It turned out that these 800 bn are needed to pay for loans of the military enterprises ahead of schedule. The loans were taken for the large-scale rearmament program that then President Dmitry Medvedev launched in 2010. The amount was staggering – RUB 1.2 trillion ($ 20.2 bn) and was covered at the expense of other sectors – social and economic support of the population and investments in the civic sectors of the economy. However, these secret expenditures can also be used for housing, education, national economy, and culture. According to the author, they include expenditures for building houses for soldiers, payments for military educational institutions, and compensations for the families of killed soldiers.
These indicators show that Russia’s defense expenditures are more than the US’s (3,1% of GDP) and than the majority of European countries (2% of GDP). In this regard, it becomes clear that the Kremlin’s top priorities lie in the military sphere, and the probability that any additional money will be used for military purposes is all too high.
Thus, calls for peace and lifting sanctions are likely to serve anything but peace.