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Sanctions. Weapons of War.

Written By: - Date published: 11:50 am, March 18th, 2018 - 53 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, class war, Europe, International, Left, Politics, Propaganda, Russia, uk politics, uncategorized, us politics - Tags: ,

There’s a lengthy piece in today’s “Independent” that claims to take inspiration from a two hundred year old travelogue “A Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow“. It’s the usual Russian propaganda. Photographs of grey skies, poor people, empty shelves and cold weather. And of course, people are a bit dim, ill-informed and struggling.

But if it’s really the case that Russians are “doing it hard”, then why are we (the western public) being asked to “get in behind” further sanctions being imposed on the country?

I’ve no doubt that things in Russia are pretty dire for many, many people. The country was ripped apart and its assets ripped off following the collapse of one party rule in the 90’s. And the people who ripped off their fellow citizens are living it up in exile in New York, London and elsewhere. So why won’t “our” governments accede to extradition requests for those people? Why are those people  being allowed to live the life of Riley as part of the ‘wealthy set’ in fashionable cities through-out the west?

If we come across a poor person in the street, do we break their legs in order that they stop walking into hardship and poverty? If the answer is “no”, then why seek to impose sanctions on a country when the effects are akin to the breaking of legs?

If we come across a person who’s just been beaten up and ripped off, do we sit down and have a drink and a laugh with the person who assaulted and robbed them? Again, if the answer is “no”, then what the hell are we thinking when we say that Russia (a country most definitely assaulted and robbed) ought to have sanctions imposed on it, while the people who did the assaulting and robbing enjoy “our” protection and not a few privileges courtesy of their ill gotten gains?

It troubles me that people identifying as being somehow “left” seem keen to identify with a class of elites (“our” elites) who would impose hardship and misery on millions of people for the purpose of turning those people away from supporting people our elites don’t like. For one thing, it doesn’t work. It didn’t work in Iraq (though it killed millions) and it isn’t working in Syria (though it’s killing people there too) and it won’t work in the case of Russia.

As a working class, white skinned male, I have no shared sense of  identity with elites of whatever country. As a working class, white skinned male, I do have a shared sense of identity with the working classes and peasants of whatever country. And if you’re calling for harm to be inflicted on them (and I don’t give a shit for any supposed “humanitarian” justification that seeks to excuse inhumanity), then where-ever it is that you think you’re standing, class war only has two sides, and you’re certainly not standing on the same side as me.


53 comments on “Sanctions. Weapons of War.”

  1. Ad 1

    Definitely time to have a discussion about both the use and the morality of economic sanctions.

    I remember discussing this with you some other time re Iraq – and it was really hard to go through some of those old NYT links, and then squint hard and hyperventilate into a paper bag to make those morally worthy on balance. So many years, so much damage.

    And then, North Korea. Sanction upon sanction. Who the hell knows whether it is the leader and his policies or the sanctions that are more culpable for human suffering. But out of the blue after the last round of sanctions – and great diplomatic efforts from South Korea’s new President – a huge diplomatic breakthrough.

    It is really, really hard to see so much of the international political order fail at once. Particularly when Nikki Hayley at the UN is weaponising votes-for-aid for undeveloped countries, and her President is weaponising trade.

    It’s like the Arctic cap breaking up replicates the decline of cross-national cooperation and enforcement as a human concept.

  2. KJT 2


    The USA invades Iraq, Indonesia commits murder in West Papua, The Saudi’s are massacring Yemeni’s, Israel is committing genocide in Palastine, The Turks are murdering Kurds. Half the countries we trade with are Dictatorships, with total contempt for human rights. Britain imprisons people after secret trials, as our law also allows. Our Government treats Democracy with contempt, regularly ignoring our rights and wishes.
    The USA drops drones on wedding parties.

    BUT Russia?

  3. Stuart Munro 3

    A good point.

    Sanctions are difficult to apply to the most guilty, and the world is not threatened by Ivan Denisovich having access to butter or apples.

    But I recall the so-called ‘smart sanctions’ NZ applied to Fiji, which needlessly antagonized an unfortunate student at Massey who was neither culpable in any meaningful way or positively influenced by the experience.

    It is probably the movement of money, arms, and in some instances the people involved that should be constrained. It was the money and arms after all that put criminal exiles in Malta in a position to have Daphne Caruana Galizia killed.

    A good smart sanction might be to go after the trusts that she discovered Mossack Fonseca had set up in NZ.

  4. francesca 4

    Totally agree with you Bill
    And I would go one further and question why those criminal Russian elites are always
    portrayed as” victims of the Kremlin” having “.fallen out with Putin”.
    They come to London crying out political persecution and are eagerly taken up by the London elites for their money and their propaganda value
    If they start winding up dead on the high end streets of London or the leafy lanes of Surrey, I would be looking to turf wars and gangster,/black market connections first
    I’m not talking here about Skripal, so please ,no pulling out the pin on the grenades
    As far as sanctions go, they circumvent the rules of the WTO, and also there is the hope that the suffering people of whatever country is in the cross hairs, will rise up and overthrow “the oppressor”
    Tillerson was recently bragging that empty N.Korean fishing boats, their crews dead have started washing up on the coasts of Japan
    Fuel embargoes and food shortages mean that fishing boats set off with inadequate fuel, run out ,the crews drift and die.


    And they like to call it diplomacy

  5. Carolyn_Nth 5

    Hence why Corbyn was calling for action against the wealthy Russian oligarchs in the UK:

    And our capacity to deal with outrages from Russia is compromised by the tidal wave of ill-gotten cash that Russian oligarchs – both allied with and opposed to the Russian government – have laundered through London over the past two decades. We must stop servicing Russian crony capitalism in Britain, and the corrupt billionaires who use London to protect their wealth.

    So I will not step back from demanding that Russian money be excluded from our political system.

    Corbyn does however, also agree with sanctions, if there is proof the Russian state are responsible fr the Skripal hit.

    But, if Russia is proved to be responsible, isn’t that a case for the UN and the international criminal court?

    • francesca 5.1

      Pity UK and Russia don’t have a bilateral extradition treaty
      Maybe they could do a swap, instead of spies, criminals
      Corbyn’s fearless

  6. The Tories’ and their supporters’ reliance on Russian money (ie the profits from money-laundering for the oligarchs) is one reason why the Russian government can act with impunity against its enemies in the UK. Cracking down on the money-laundering would hurt the people running Russia far more than sanctions could.

    That said:

    1. Sanctions are metaphorical weapons of war, as opposed to actual weapons of war like polonium-210 or chemical agents.

    2. Poverty in Russia isn’t due to EU sanctions, which consist of:
    * An asset freeze on certain individuals and organisations.
    * Restrictions on economic engagement with Crimea.
    * Limits on access to the EU for a number of Russian banks and companies.
    * A ban on trade in arms and dual-use products.
    * Ban on exchanging particular high-tech information with Russian companies.

    • adam 6.1

      Your a bit delusional if you think the elites in Russia won’t make the poor pay for any restrictions on them. They always have, and they always will.

    • Bill 6.2

      The (apparently) on-going financial crisis in Russia which began in late 2014 has two principle drivers; the collapse in the oil price and sanctions.

      So I wouldn’t go trying to sell the notion that sanctions are somehow not literal, or their effects not real, or otherwise fairly benign and “smart” (as in “smart bombs”).

      When an economy collapses or gets in trouble, it’s generally the poorer people in society that suffer most. As we know.

      • Psycho Milt 6.2.1

        Three principle drivers: oil prices, sanctions, and being run by a mafia kleptocracy. Of those three, oil prices and bad governance are the most significant.

        The effects of sanctions are real, otherwise they wouldn’t be used. They beat the shit out of actual warfare, though.

        • Bill

          They beat the shit out of actual warfare, though.

          Sure. Except that they are warfare (just not “conventional” war as we’re taught to think of it).

          So when Iraqi children died in their hundreds of thousands because medical equipment was deemed to be dual purpose; because vital infrastructure couldn’t be repaired because dual purpose ; because banks and businesses couldn’t access international credit lines or trade internationally, meaning the economy was crippled and people died as a result…

          ….that’s just so much more ‘civilised’ than your idea of warfare. Much more sanitised. More distant. Almost invisible.

          Actually, bar walloping severed heads and diseased corpses over borders, and bar the sheer scale of it, it’s really not any different to the “oh so civilised” sieges of medieval Europe and a tonne of other times and places we lie to ourselves we’ve left behind in darker times – less civilised times – that we peer back on through the glorious lens of liberal progress.

          • Psycho Milt

            “Civilised,” bollocks. Sanctions are not the same as warfare, just like refusing to talk to someone is not the same as king-hitting them and giving them a good kicking. Neither’s very nice, but there’s only so much pretending everything’s fine that you can do, and one of the alternatives is a hell of a lot less drastic than the other.

            • Bill

              Less drastic? You mean the millions of Iraqis killed because of sanctions (One and a half “the price was worth it” [Albright] million children) was somehow less drastic than the fewer number of deaths that resulted from overt military action?

              You’re free to hold that view I guess. It’s not one I’m going to understand.

              • The question of whether they were killed by sanctions or the murderous dictatorship running their country is one that could, and has, filled a lot of comments threads. Russia, unlike Iraq, is fortunate enough to have a kleptocrat rather than a Baath party dictator running things, so “sanctions” haven’t killed anybody, and won’t.

  7. Pat 7

    You’re right to point out who suffers under sanctions…and it is seldom those who deserve to ….however, and there is always one, short of armed conflict what options are there?

    The latest events in the UK raises the question (again) of ‘who runs this town?’

    Democracies elect representatives to administer society on their behalf…they may fail to do a good job and they may be unduly influenced by vested interest but at least if enough voters disapprove of their actions they can be removed and (hopefully) wider public good restored.

    The same cannot be said of the likes of Russia.

    Is it acceptable that a foreign state can effectively impose their own rule (and a rule by fear and death) upon a section of society especially when that law is diametrically opposed to that which has been approved by the democratic process and in breach of human decency? What are the consequences of ignoring such acts?

    For all its many faults western democracy is indeed the best of a set of poor options …and the best way to ensure it dosn’t deteriorate further is to engage….because the alternative may look like Russia or the (linked) following.


    • Poission 7.1

      Parents of young people about to be shot by paramilitaries are plying them with alcohol or powerful painkillers before their “appointments”, the Chief Constable has said.


    • Nic the NZer 7.2

      “For all its many faults western democracy is indeed the best of a set of poor options …and the best way to ensure it dosn’t deteriorate further is to engage….because the alternative may look like Russia or the (linked) following”

      You do realize that Northern Ireland is a part of the UK don’t you?

      • Pat 7.2.1

        Oddly enough yes…just as Im aware that Sicily and Naples (and numerous other examples that could be applied) are part of democracies….and you even quoted the part about engagement!…go figure.

        • Nic the NZer

          So your saying if the UK doesn’t engage it may start to look like part of the UK.

          I totally understand. /sarc

          • Pat

            Baby steps for you…

            Democracy is fragile

            There are two main internal threats to its intended function…corruption and polarisation…the two are reinforcing of each other.

            The discussion re response to the latest attack on a Russian expat in the UK has amply demonstrated (increasing imo) polarisation in our own democracy.
            There are plenty of others.

            When democracy fails the alternatives are not what could be described as desirable…i gave two examples.

            If we wish to maintain a functioning democracy its about time we realised that extreme positions that do not attract wide support are counterproductive.

            Compromise is not a dirty word, it is what makes democracy work.

    • KJT 7.3

      “they can be removed and (hopefully) wider public good restored.”


      • Pat 7.3.1

        maybe …thats why the brackets…however the opportunity remains if enough so choose….can the same be said of say Russia?

  8. Sanctuary 8

    There are two strands to this Skripal business.

    First, did Russia do it (and if so, did Putin order it or has the gangster state gone rogue)?

    I have little doubt the Russians did it and that Putin ordered it. Putin is a very dangerous autocrat who runs an economically puny (it’s economy is only slightly bigger than the CER partners Australia and New Zealand – Russia would probably lose a war in the Pacific against the ANZAC middle power) but resource rich, nuclear armed ex-super power. Russian/Soviet military doctrine has for almost 100 years placed great emphasis on what they call maskirovka, or the subtle art of deception of the enemy through deception, denial, disinformation and the manipulation of facts. The manipulation of information via cyberwarfare, troll armies and until recently unchecked propaganda (RT being a good old fashioned example) is entirely in keeping with this tradition and thus it is hardly surprising they would adapt it to the information age.

    As a low level KGB official with a cushy job and nice digs in a desirable foreign posting in Dresden Putin saw the fall of the USSR from his balcony and drew every wrong conclusion. He saw not the crumbling of an unsustainable system, but a failure to ruthlessly apply Soviet power to crush the rebellions. Putin and his henchmen deride the rule of law and despise weakness. They perceive the west as morally weak and democracy easily manipulated. And via this manipulation and brazen acts of lawlessness, backed by their decrepit nuclear arsenal, they seek to hide their criminality and military and economic weakness.

    Secondly, what, if anything, should we in NZ do about it? On the one hand, the days of reflexively supporting the UK in it’s every conflict are over. And a trade deal with Russia would provide a timely alternative market to China, the reliance on which is apparently something that worries Winston Peters. So what do we care about a spat between Britain and Russia about an attempted assassination in an obscure market town 20,000km away? But on the other hand New Zealand’s foreign policy as a small and vulnerable trading nation has been always to reinforce the rule of international law and to seek nations to behave in a legal and civilised manner. Putin’s Russia is an outlaw gangster state run as a series of semi-feudal fiefdoms by gangster billionaire oligarchs who owe their fortunes to Putin’s favour. The behaviour of the Russian state is currently recklessly aggressive and it’s policy appears to be to distract the population from their dire economic situation with paranoia (against foreigners, gays, and traitors) and to weaponise the information age in order to weaken it’s supposed enemies.

    As much as we want, it hard to justify trading with such awful people. But then, you could say the same thing of the lawless butchers of Beijing, and they are our major trading partner by far.

    So i guess it a matter of how much you have to stink before even holding our nose to trade with you isn’t enough.

    • Kaya3 8.1

      Wow, just wow.
      The people of this country have lost the plot totally. The only thing you said that made any sense was “They perceive the west as morally weak and democracy easily manipulated.”
      That is 100% correct. We are totally morally weak,have you looked at what is on TV every night?? MAFS? The Block? ffs
      As for our “democracy” – it’s a total farce. Like Jacinda, the saviour of the left, whoops, centre right.

      When the idiots in Whitehall get their wish and start a thermonuclear war over allegations totally without a shred of proof it will be pleasing to know that at least NZ had the balls to take the moral high ground and not run with the baying pack……..oh wait. That must have been someone else.

  9. adam 9

    Maybe if the elites dropped the whole facade of not killing each other directly, then this would be a better world. Why don’t May take a knife and go kill Putan if she has a problem with him. Or Trump for that matter. If they have a problem talk or fight amongst yourselves.

    Leave us out of your crap.

  10. KJT 10

    “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw gangster state run as a series of semi-feudal fiefdoms by gangster billionaire oligarchs who owe their fortunes to Putin’s favour. The behaviour of the Russian state is currently recklessly aggressive and it’s policy appears to be to distract the population from their dire economic situation with paranoia (against foreigners, gays, and traitors) and to weaponise the information age in order to weaken it’s supposed enemies”.

    An excellent description of the USA since Citizens United, also. Why do we want to trade with them?

    • Kaya3 10.1

      Exactly what i was thinking but couldn’t be bothered wasting the energy on someone who could write a piece of nonsense like that.

  11. Sanctuary 11

    “…An excellent description of the USA since Citizens United, also. Why do we want to trade with them..?”

    I am pretty sure it is easier to be queer in San Francisco than it is St. Petersburg.

    • KJT 11.1

      Until recently it was easier to be queer in San Francisco, than Wellington.
      Can’t see what that has to do with the subject.

    • One Two 11.2

      Perhaps you don’t realise it, Sanctury…

      But with that single comment you’ve articulated where preferences and bias merge and become a blindfold…

      One of the very worst ‘rationales’ I’ve read…anywhere…

  12. Carolyn_Nth 12

    This guy’s blog is an interesting read.

    Craig Murray.

    Has a background in the UK diplomatic service.

    Has written books on espionage – some based on Uzbekistan where he was once ambassador.

    post “Of A Type Developed By Liars” 16 March 2018

    I have now received confirmation from a well placed FCO source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve agent as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so. Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation. The Russians were allegedly researching, in the “Novichok” programme a generation of nerve agents which could be produced from commercially available precursors such as insecticides and fertilisers. This substance is a “novichok” in that sense.

    When the same extremely careful phrasing is never deviated from, you know it is the result of a very delicate Whitehall compromise.

    Until this week, the near universal belief among chemical weapons experts, and the official position of the OPCW, was that “Novichoks” were at most a theoretical research programme which the Russians had never succeeded in actually synthesising and manufacturing. That is why they are not on the OPCW list of banned chemical weapons.

    Porton Down is still not certain it is the Russians who have apparently synthesised a “Novichok”. Hence “Of a type developed by Russia”. Note developed, not made, produced or manufactured.

    It is very carefully worded propaganda. Of a type developed by liars.

    Post 17 March 2018 “First Recorded Successful Novichok Synthesis was in 2016 – By Iran, in Cooperation with the OPCW 127”

    I have now been sent the vital information that in late 2016, Iranian scientists set out to study whether novichoks really could be produced from commercially available ingredients. Iran succeeded in synthesising a number of novichoks. Iran did this in full cooperation with the OPCW and immediately reported the results to the OPCW so they could be added to the chemical weapons database.

    He links to his 14 March post in which he claims evidence that the Novickok claim is a scam.

    • Stuart Munro 12.1

      He seems to be running the “liar” line pretty hard.

      What analysis is able to prove is not always as much as you’d like. If, as has been stated by May, the agent is of the Novichok type, but not provably of Russian manufacture so far.

      What did Murray want the chemists to do? Lie that it was provably manufactured in Russia, or lie that it was NOT of the Novichok type? He does have the odd piece of information but his aim is clearly to muddy the waters by slandering the chemists, who thus far seem not to have stepped outside the bounds of prudent professionalism.

    • Bill 12.2

      He has a few bits and pieces up on youtube too. Some are very much worth the time to watch.

      • Carolyn_Nth 12.2.1

        Thanks. Just about all the references to him on Skripal are from non-English speaking countries – some European, I think.

        The reporting from English language countries seems to conform mostly to the UK government line.

    • SPC 12.3

      Which would be why the UK has decided it’s probably Russia, let’s act on that and move on. They had the form and motive … but it’s not so easy to prove … . And why the Russians said go on prove it … (coz if we did do it, we know you know you cannot prove it – or because we did not and so of course we will deny it and not believe you can prove we did it).

      For the Tories the good news is, because they cannot prove the Russians did it they can allow the money to flow from Russia into and around London without strong objection from Corbyn for now.

      • Carolyn_Nth 12.3.1

        What? Can’t prove it was Russia. So we’ll just blame them and punish them and move on!? That makes no sense in a law-based society.

        • SPC

          It’s how governments make issues go away. They pretend to have dealt with it. Not having identified a guilty party would have meant appearing weak. Rest assured little England you have a strong Tory government and you are safe … well this is the line being taken.

  13. Ad 13

    Under the US Department of Homeland Security, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team have reported two days ago that Russia has infiltrated deep into the electricity and water and other utilities of the United States:


    Further useful commentary from the New York Times, if you can get through the paywall:


    A wee while back, Wired prophecised that the way Russia was attaching the Ukraine energy system was a pretty important precursor for how it could attack other countries:


    Wikipedia has the summary of what happened in the Ukraine here:


    I want a retaliatory cyberwar between Russia and the U.S. as little as I want a hot war.

    What then – if sanctions are too clumsy – are the retaliatory actions available?

    • Bill 13.1

      Well, if you’re going to treat every announcement and every claim as some OMG! moment, then I guess you and your buddies might want to see some retaliatory action taken.

      I’ll just apply this small hopeful thought to all elites of all nationalities and territories. (Apparently) “the French aristocracy didn’t see it coming either”

      • Ad 13.1.1

        Nope, after the Ukraine, they really did see it coming.
        As cited.
        And they couldn’t stop it.
        As cited, from the actual US intelligence report itself.

        The better question, to the point of your post, what should they do next, if sanctions are not the answer?

        • Bill

          Ad, you’re assuming there is something to retaliate for. And you’re pushing that line quite hard.

          The point of the post was that we’re being asked to take sides – where neither side on offer is our side (hence the reference to the French aristocracy)

    • Pat 13.2

      It may be worth considering a couple of aspects of the Russian situation….

      They have a declining population and an economy under threat…they currently spend around double the percentage of their GDP( and considering the population a small economy) on their military as the west to the detriment of the health and wealth of their population….its now or never to improve their situation by any means available.

      And all this is compounded by the fact there is a moron in the Whitehouse….’interesting times’ dosnt really cover it.

    • One Two 13.3

      Can you guess which state ‘leads the world’ in ‘cybersecurity’ ?


  14. Sanctuary 14

    I guess any real retaliation we will never know about. For example, where DID those Chechens who blew up the Moscow underground train killing dozens in 2019 get their untraceable Czech semtex from? The British certainly wouldn’t know, and in fact her Majesty’s Government will be OUTRAGED at the atrocity…

  15. Anon 15

    So what’s the difference between sanctions and boycott?

  16. Lloyd 16

    When anyone complains about sanctions hurting the poor, please remember that when the cannon-fodder is sent to the front line in a ‘real’ war that almost always all those soldiers come from the poorest parts of the opposing armies’ societies.

    When we get bare-knuckle leaders fighting on reality TV we may have a better solution to conflicts between nations. It would make better TV than baking.

  17. Sceptical Honi 17

    Let us consider for a moment who benefits from Russia being named and blamed.
    It’s not Russia, nor Is it the UK, nor even Russia’s old enemy the USA. However, the USA comes close. But still the USA doesn’t have that kind of subtle track record for successfully playing the third man. However one of the USA’s client states does have that kind of track record, and stands to benefit from a weakened Russia.
    Israel I suspect is the culprit. There is no doubt Israel felt threatened by Russia’s role in Syria, and growing influence in the Middle East, just when the USA, and the UK seem to be pulling back. Israel has demonstrated repeatedly that it has no respect for human life or international law in its single minded, defence of the notion that it is rightfully the victim of all its neighbours both in the Middle East and much further abroad. Russia has never been viewed as a friend to the Jews either.
    Mossad has been described by analysts as one of the most active, if not the most active espionage agencies in the entire world, and very often plays the third man. Israel also has a reputation for its chemical, biological and weapons industries. So Israel has the means, the will, the ideology, and the bloody mindedness to have been the culprit. After all, if Russia wears the blame, their claim on UK support if Middle East conflict flares is only enhanced. Israel’s friends in Whitehall no doubt view the situation similarly.

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