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Ukraine, Syria, and Putin

AFP Photo/John MacDougall
Ukraine, Syria, and Putin
Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

The sanctions implemented against Russia for its actions in the Donbas have become the main lever against Russia. And they may help solve problems both in Ukraine and Syria.

The European Union summit ended without a decision to threaten the Russian Federation with sanctions over events in Syria. Even a few days before the summit there was no such item in the final EU document. It appeared in the draft document practically at the time of the Berlin meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

As has been reported, François Hollande and Angela Merkel remained after the “Normandy format” negotiations in order to discuss the situation in Aleppo with Vladimir Putin. Putin was unable to convince his Western counterparts. After the meeting, François Hollande and Angela Merkel talked about the war crimes of the Russian and Syrians regimes. The threat of sanctions should have been the logical consequence of this conclusion.

However, statements about the sanctions were removed from the final document at the last minute. As confirmed by Western media, this was because of the position of the Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi. It is well known that Rome has a special relationship with Moscow.

The traditions of Italian political life, where former communists and fascists support Putin’s politics, have allowed the Kremlin to form a pro-Russian lobby that the government needs to take into account. Additionally, Italian business, known for its corruption, also offer special opportunities for the Kremlin.

But Renzo is not alone in his desire to reduce the penalties for Putin for the systematic destruction of civilians in Syria. Forming a united front with the Italian prime minister are the Greek prime minister, the left-wing populist Alexis Tsipras, and the Hungarian prime minister, the right-wing populist Viktor Orban.

They are cautious, since their irresponsible policies have turned Greece and Hungary into countries that are dependent on EU aid and therefore on the positions of Germany and France. And yet they still have sufficient opportunity to amend documents.

All this has been an unpleasant surprise for Hollande and Merkel, as well as for British Prime Minister Theresa May, another supporter of a tough stance towards Moscow.

The events in Syria, unlike the crisis in Ukraine, are having a direct impact on Western public opinion and on the attitudes of voters. The Germans, the British, and the French are taking this much more seriously than the Italians and the Greeks.

Therefore, the decisions that have been reached reflect the traditional EU compromise between the tough position of some and the collaborationism of others. In this case, these were the sanctions that the EU had already approved for Crimea and the Donbas. At the EU summit the possibility  of weakening sanctions was not even discussed, even though that possibility had existed and the pro-Russian lobby had been working  on it.

However, even if these sanctions are the only ones retained, in 2017 Russian companies will not be able to refinance. Access to Western credit markets will be closed for them as before. The Russian economy will suffer a blow from which it will not recover. Together with the depletion of Russian reserves, this could be a prelude to the collapse of the Putin regime.

Putin is well aware of this. This is why his diplomats have been working actively all this year on easing sanctions. And they have achieved a certain result with the help of the same Europeans who have been lobbying in the interests of the Putin regime.

Aleppo prevented that. Right now the sanctions that have been imposed for the Donbas are becoming the main lever against Russia. And they may help solve the problems both of Ukraine and Syria. And perhaps — if the blow turns out to be devastating — the problems of Russia itself.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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