You can threaten to destroy the Russian economy or target the president's friends, but you can't stop Putin's imaginary vision of the past, and present. It's bad news for Western diplomats, for peace in the region — and may be the ultimate ruin of modern Russia.
In his hour-long address to the nation, Vladimir Putin announced the recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk Independent Republics, paving the way for Russian troops to enter their territory. The wording is quite amusing since the "republics," these non-existent entities, had already been invented by the Kremlin. What does it mean to recognize what you’ve already fabricated?
Ultimately, what really mattered from Putin’s decree was the confirmation that Russian troops will cross the border and arrive in Ukrainian territory.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president was urging his public not to panic, the Ukrainian defense minister is confident that the army can handle any aggressor, even as the rest of the world knows there may be plenty to panic about. That leaves Western leaders — and what do they do? They threaten Putin with another list of sanctions, and even start imposing some new ones. Sound familiar?
Voices in unison
Sanctions have been the response to Putin's actions against Ukraine before, put in place since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Now, after eight years of diplomatic and economic pressure, we still find ourselves at a point where Crimea, Donbas, and Luhansk are occupied by Russian troops, and Putin is moving on to declaring with the whole world watching that the nation of Ukraine is nothing more than a fiction of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
Washington, London, and Kyiv all agree that diplomacy should be the only method of resolving conflict. Russian political blogger Maxim Katz explains the role of sanctions in his latest video: "Sanctions are valuable until they are imposed because their purpose is to frighten and stop actions, not to punish the inhabitants of the country, who will be the first to be hit by them, for the actions of its leaders."
There is one prickly little question that many forget: Will it work?
And even as sanctions are being imposed, harsher measures — let’s call them "punishments" — are being announced. Germany declared Tuesday that Nord Stream 2 is on hold. This is a multibillion dollar Big Deal of a pipeline project, which Russia has been counting on for both economic and geostrategic reasons.
In the hours after Putin’s speech, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order imposing sanctions on the breakaway “republics” in eastern Ukraine. Russian daily Kommersantreports that other countries are also preparing corresponding sanctions. "The international community must firmly, immediately, and unambiguously punish this decision of Russia," Romanian President Klaus Johannis declared.
"Only a tough stance and political defense of Ukraine can stop the aggressor. Sanctions immediately," Polish President Andrzej Duda urged. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio called on Western partners to act together "without any hesitation."
At a protest against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project
The only alternative
Major economic impact and plenty of proper sentiment, but there is one prickly little question that many forget: Will it work?
New York Times columnist Peter Coy tried to make some sense of it in his column: economic pressure from the world's key exporters and banks would be enough to crush Russia's economy, which no import substitution can help.
"There are two clashing arguments about whether the threat of economic sanctions can be effective now in deterring Russian aggression in Ukraine. One is that sanctions against Russia following the 2014 invasion of Ukraine didn't prompt any improvement in behavior, nor did sanctions promote good behavior when imposed against Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Venezuela. So it's unrealistic to expect sterner sanctions to work against Russia this time. The contrary view is that sanctions would be effective now because they could cause real economic pain," Coy writes.
"And even though sanctions are far from a perfect solution, they're the only alternative to either armed conflict or acquiescence to Russian aggression."
And yet … everything we’ve seen from the past tells us that they cannot and will not stop Vladimir Putin. Because the ground war he wages against Kyiv or proxy war against Washington is happening in the parallel reality of his imagination. And taking place there, any punishments are only a confirmation of the rightness of his way. Only the chosen ones suffer, they say.
22.2.22 is the day when the countdown to the final collapse of the empire began.
This also helps explain why the Russian president needed more than an hour Monday night for his speech, with two-thirds of it reserved for his bogus history lesson about Ukraine. In that imagined reality, he had the time to explain to every Russian what the "real" reality is, and why it is more important than any economic problems or international criticism that are sure to follow.
Renowned Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko reacted to Putin's speech as follows, on Echo of Moscow radio: "If this is where it ends — with the undermining of our own "FSB border post", the personal collapse of our own currency and own stock market — good riddance again, Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin)! … And Russia may not stop there. This could be a prelude to the start of the real invasion. A preparation. Or, then, shot after shot, hooked, spun, has led to it. That's easy. I don't rule that out at all. But if that's all it takes, that's a great result. Russia sticks its head in the shit pot all by itself. Let's not let her get in the way of that. In any case, 22.2.22 is the day when the countdown to the final collapse of the empire began."
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