Major Developments this week
Putin gets relaxation of sanctions. In exchange for grain shipments?
This week Vladimir Putin made considerable progress in his efforts to avoid the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, and to exploit political divisions in different countries in the West.
Adroitly using the hunger weapon by blocking grain shipments from Ukrainian Black Ssa ports, he seemed to have secured an agreement to allow grain shipments in exchange for an easing of the economic sanctions which blocked maintenance and repairs of Russian aircraft, which has threatened to ground all civil aviation in Russia in the near future. Or possibly, he simply gained this sanctions relief through appeasers within the European Commission.
The official announcement was wrapped in carefully drafted technical jargon, obviously designed to keep anyone from understanding what was really going on.
The EU announcement stated:
Introducing a number of clarifications to existing measures, for instance in the field of public procurement, aviation and justice. For instance, technical assistance to Russia for aviation goods and technology will be allowed insofar as it is needed to safeguard the technical industrial standard setting work of the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the prohibition to enter into any transactions with Russian public entities will be slightly amended to ensure access to justice.(fn. 1).
One needs to recall the artfulness of Yes, Minister (1980-1984) and Yes, Prime Minister (1986-1988), two marvelous BBC TV series about the cunning of the British Civil Service, to appreciate this language. One can almost see Sir Humphrey beaming with pride at his creation.
The Russian news agency TASS was more direct in its reporting:
Seventh package of EU sanctions eases number of restrictions against Russia
The EU also lifted the ban on supplies of a number of goods, services and technologies for aviation.
This was a huge victory for Putin. In effect, the West had a stranglehold on Russian civil aviation, but didn’t have the resolve to actually use it, apparently giving in to Putin’s threat to continue Russia’s illegal blockade of Ukrainian ports and his use of the hunger weapon. Or being asleep at the wheel while appeasers ar the EU Commission slipped one through.
The seventh sanctions package actually relaxes critical sanctions under a cloud of deceit.
In any event, if it was a bargain, Ukraine was outmanned at the negotiating table for the grain deal, facing both Russia and Turkey’s treacherous President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in addition to the United Nations.
The apparent bargain is understandable in terms of its immediate goal of securing grain shipments from Ukraine which may help avoid famine in some Near Eastern and African countries, though this itself is far from clear.
What is clear is that no one was in charge of the overall strategy of the West in deciding whether to use the power of the sanctions to ground Russian civil aviation.
Had the West pursued that course, the political repercussions within the Russian Federation could have been very considerable indeed, and even weakened Putin’s grip on power.
Instead, no one was in charge of overall strategy.
Short-term thinking and short-term goals took precedence. A decision of enormous potential strategic importance was in essence made by default.
Whether and how the grain shipment deal will actually work remains uncertain, as we don’t know yet if the de-mining operations will be successful or if ship owners and insurers will actually allow ships to transport the grain.
Moreover, a deal with Putin is usually not worth the paper it is written on. Here, perhaps the participation of the U.N. and Turkey will make a difference. We’ll see.
Russia argues supply of longe-range weapons to Ukraine causes it to broaden targets
In an interview with RT television this week, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Russia has broadened its targets beyond the Donbas in response to the transfer of long-range artillery to Ukraine which can reach targets on Russian territory.
It is obvious that the transfer of HIMARS and other long-range artillery to Ukraine has the Kremlin worried. Lavrov is in effect saying if you keep delivering such weapons we will widen the regions we are attacking in the war.
The argument of course is ludicrous. It does reveal, however, how concerned Putin is that Ukraine might use force in self-defense to target military bases in Russia from which missiles are launched at Ukrainian cities, and to hit targets critical to Russian supply lines supporting its invading forces in Ukraine.
Hungary’s foreign minister travels to Moscow to seek additional gas deal
Hungary’s foreign minister is traveling to Moscow with the goal of securing an additional gas deal from Putin. President Viktor Orbán already secured a special bilateral gas deal from Putin before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Hungary is perhaps the EU country closest to Putin within the EU, ready to break unity to conclude an advantageous gas deal for itself only, dragging its feet on the adoption of new sanctions.
Nonetheless, it must be said that Otbán has allowed six rounds of EU sanctions to be adopted, and is applying them.
Putin toys with Germany with Nordstream I gas supply
After a 10-day shutdown for maintenance of the Nordstream I gas pipeline, Russia resumed deliveries to Germany, at the rate of 40% of what was delivered in previous years, satisfying current operational needs but not supplying quantities sufficient to stockpile gas for the next two winters.
In doing so, Putin sent a loud signal to SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the “Ampel” (stoplight) coalition that he could turn off the spigot at will, giving him leverage over Germany and its military and other support for Ukraine.
To date, Germany has dragged its feet on military aid, promising much and delivering little, offering bureaucratic red tape as one of many varying excuses for its dilatoriness. The reputation of Germany as a reliable military partner is in shreds, and Scholz has lost much of his credibility outside the country.
Drahi government toppled in Italy, as pro-Russian parties pose mortal threat to the West’s anti-Russian coalition (fn. 3).
This week Silvio Berlusconi and pro-Russian parties were reportedly behind bringing down the coalition government of Mario Drahi, a committed Europeanist and former director of the European Central Bank.
New elections have now been called for September 25, in which the pro-Russian parties are reported to have a good chance of winning.
If they do win, given unanimity voting requirements, we may quickly see the end of tbe ability of the EU and NATO to take effective action in opposing Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
This is a four-alarm fire.
Presidents and prime ministers from all over Europe and other NATO countries should be making the case, in Italy, of how important it is that Italy continue to resist Russian aggression with sanctions against Russia and robust military and financial aid for Ukraine.
Older leaders should not assume that younger voters are familiar with the events of World War II, the oppression by the Soviets of the peoples in Central and Eastern Europe, and what in essence the U.N. Charter and international law, including the law of human rights and international humanitarian law (the law of war) are all about.
They should explain these things to the voters, many of whom are younger and have no memory or real knowledge of these events and elements of international order.
At every rally. In every speech. On television programs. On social media. This not just an Italian electoral matter.
The elections may decide the future of Europe, and the world beyond.
It would be a great tragedy if the outcome of the war in Ukraine were decided at the polls in Italy.
Devastating testimony before January 6 Committe
On the American Front in the war in Ukraine, the January 6 Committee hearings this week, and particularly the hearing on July 21 which focused on Trump’s actions on January 6, should have a strong impact on citizens and voters who are open to reason, and who are not simply hiding in willful ignorance behind Fox News’ blackout of the hearings. For the Fox News propaganda channel, the hearings were not newsworthy enough to be broadcast live.
The hearings underlined once again, if anybody had missed it, how derelict in carrying out his duty to uphold the law Attorney General Merrick Garland has been, by not aggressively investigating and indicting Donald Trump and his co-conspirators for the many crimes he and they have apparently committed, many in full public view.
Biden travels to Jedda, Saudi Arabia
It seems like ages ago, but President Joe Biden traveled to Israel and Saudi Arabia only two weeks ago, cozying up to the Israelis in a two-day visit which allowed for only a half-hour visit with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority. The Arab friends of Saudi Arabia were there, and Biden clearly aligned himself with them and the anti-Iranian coalition including Israel.
The U.S. gives support to the anti-Iranian coalition of Israel, Saudi Arabia and their allies. Biden goes so far as to say Iran should never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
This is the Israeli mantra. No one has a clue as to how to achieve this objective. An Israeli military intervention is not feasible. What Israel has done instead has reportedly been to resort to terrorist attacks within Iran, assassinating nuclear scientists, for example.
The only realistic possibility of delaying or preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb is to reinstate with necessary revisions the 2015 Iran deal, as expressed in the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA).
Time is late. Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2918. Iran has broken through the limits and restrictions in the agreement. Nonetheless, negotiations to reinstate the deal are apparently advanced.
What is required is decisive political leadership.
The U.S. should reach a deal with Iran to reinstate the JCPOA as best as possible, with or without the Russians. The basic quid pro quo is that America and her allies will lift the sanctions in exchange for Iran stopping or rolling back its nuclear activities.
This issue should not be allowed to drift through inertia.
The alternative is a deepening Iranian-Russian alliance, and an Iranian bomb sooner rather than later. It is hard to see how that is in American interests.
1. RT, “EU clarifies sanctions against Russian aviation,” RT.com, July 22: 2022 (01:39 GMT+10), in Big News Network.com.
2. TASS, “Seventh package of EU sanctions eases number of restrictions against Russia; The EU also lifted the ban on supplies of a number of goods, services and technologies for aviation,” TASS, July 21, 2022 (05:42).
3. Vito Laterza, “Draghi’s fall is a win for Putin – and for the Italian far right,” Al Jazeera, July 23, 2022.