Sanctions on Russia are folly more than policy

Land grab? It is hard for neutrals to see how Russia’s annexation of contiguous Crimea is less justified than the American use of force in Kosovo and Iraq
Land grab? It is hard for neutrals to see how Russia’s annexation of contiguous Crimea is less justified than the American use of force in Kosovo and Iraq

Australia’s merchandise and service exports to Russia last year were worth more than A$900 million. When Russia retaliated against the 30+ western countries, including Australia, imposing sanctions on some of its banks and individuals by banning foodstuffs (meat, poultry, fish, fruit and vegetables, dairy products) for one year, Canberra’s politicians criticised Moscow for being unfair. Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the morality of the Russian retaliatory sanctions made him feel “sick in the guts”. His deputy Tanya Plibersek said it was “extraordinary” for Russia to punish Australia’s primary production sector and farmers.

Noel Campbell, president of the Australian Dairy Farmers and chairman of the Australian Dairy Industry Council, said the industry is less concerned with the loss of the Russian exports than the possibility that 500,000 tonnes of European produce will be diverted from Russia to alternative global markets, depressing world prices. Australia currently sends about 22,000 tonnes of products into Russia (mainly butter) that was worth A$110-112 million last year. More broadly, around A$400 million of Australia’s A$38 billion in total farm exports go to Russia. Russia’s Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov confirmed that more Brazilian meat and New Zealand cheese would be imported to replace the sanctioned produce.

As the poet Robbie Burns lamented, if only we had the gift to see ourselves as others see us! Bill Shorten argues that Russia has no “moral authority” to impose sanctions on Australia. This is a curious charge. To most neutral observers, Australia, Britain and the US have even less moral authority to impose sanctions on Russia. For countries that illegally invaded Iraq in 2003 without any national or international security justification, sanctions on Russia for its defensive counter-measures in response to provocations in Ukraine is base hypocrisy. None of the belligerent countries have been sanctioned for their aggression against Iraq.

After the end of the Cold War, with the implosion of the former Soviet Union and Russia defeated and helpless, the US and EU could have used their supreme dominance to reinforce the structures, norms and principles of liberal internationalism and so strengthen the rule of international law and normative foundations of world order. Instead, they set about flouting global norms, violating international law and undermining the existing structures. Serbia was bombed unilaterally by the supposedly defence-only NATO even though no outside country was attacked. Contemptuously brushing aside Russian voice, vote and interests, Kosovo was forcibly detached in a compelling demonstration of might is right. It is hard for non-Americans to see how the Russian annexation of contiguous Crimea — a core Russian interest — is less justified than the US use of force in Kosovo in 1999 and Iraq in 2003, half a world away. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained this year: “Attempts by those who staged the secession of Kosovo from Serbia to question the free will of Crimeans cannot be viewed as anything but a flagrant display of double standards.”

By journalist John Pilger’s count, the US has attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments since 1945, many of them democratically elected, and interfered in the elections in 30 countries. Why must there be consequences for Russia but not for the US for their respective resorts to force? The UN imposed sanctions on Libya for the Lockerbie bombing, while Washington awarded a medal to its commanding officer who shot down a commercial Iranian aeroplane. In fact, quite remarkably, no western country has ever been subjected to any coercive action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Is Chapter 7 a tool to be used only by the West against the rest, provided they are weak and vulnerable non-allies like Myanmar, neither a major power with clout like China nor an ally like Israel?


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