28 March 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
The 10-point plan to save Ukraine proposed by Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, published by the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki last Friday on Politico, is certainly a step forward in terms of measures to curb Russian aggression in the country. Of course, the reality is that Ukraine needs combat aviation and missile defence, not plans of this kind, but such matters are evidently not in the competence of its Eastern European friends. Therefore, strengthening the sanctions regime will also be of some use.
In the plan that has been presented two trends clearly compete. On the one hand, the complete isolation of Russia from the rest of the world and, on the other, targetted measures against the key mechanisms of military aggression. In war, this is the difference between carpet bombing and surgical strikes.
I am in favour of the second model. Not just because I live in Russia myself, and not because reckless sanctions will affect everyone equally – those who are in the right and those who are guilty, those who support the aggression and those who oppose it, the organizers of crimes against humanity and those who are helpless witnesses. Not for those reasons! Such sanctions could be accepted as just retribution for our nationwide passivity, for our lack of participation or support, for our inability to rein in the oppressive regime on our own. And they would not be the most severe punishments.
What I am talking about is something else. Sanctions that affect the Russian economy and thereby reduce its military potential and the military threat are necessary and justified. These include disconnecting all Russian banks from the SWIFT system, blocking Russian ships in European ports, and banning the export of any technology to Russia that can be used for military purposes.
Other sanctions on the proposed list will not have a massive impact on Kremlin policy or the national economy. They are more educational in nature.They are measures of individual retaliation. And here, between these two strategies, I would choose ‘surgical strikes’ rather than ‘carpet bombing.’
PUTIN’S RUSSIANS AND ORDINARY RUSSIAN CITIZENS
A policy of granting asylum to Russian soldiers who refuse to fight in Ukraine would be absolutely correct and rightly targetted. And I have no objections to Russian propaganda being completely banned in Europe. One can only welcome restrictions on the businesses of oligarchs close to the Kremlin and the imposition of sanctions on all members of United Russia.
But how precise and targeted are the sanctions in the proposal to close road traffic between Europe and Russia? Or to suspend the issuing of European visas to all Russians? Would it not make more sense to divide Russians into those who support Putin’s dictatorship and those who oppose it? What is the point of imposing sanctions on the latter?
People penalised under criminal or administrative law for protesting against the war with Ukraine will also be subject to EU sanctions! This is not only unfair, but also ill-judged. Such people, on the contrary, should be supported with a demonstration of maximum solidarity – it would show Russian society that Europe is not fighting Russia, but the dictatorial regime of Vladimir Putin.
This would give Russians an additional incentive to resist the dictatorship. It would give moral support to opposition forces and practical help to those who risk their freedom and lives here. It would show Russian society that the West is defending the values of freedom and democracy, and not trying to wipe Russia from the face of the earth, as Putin’s propagandists claim. If I were in the place of the West, I would not neglect this tool to fight dictatorship. I would cherish it and hone it.
DON’T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER!
It’s really easy to punish everyone at one go, but it’s hard to look into the details. It’s painstaking work. For example, take the proposal to expel Russia from all international organizations. What about the Independent Psychiatric Association, which along with the official Russian organisation represents Russia at the World Psychiatric Association? It is the only professional organization in Russia which opposes the abuse of psychiatry in the country. Should it be excluded as well? That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
I would suggest that the West treat the patient surgically and not leave them in absolute quarantine, in complete isolation, and without medical care. It should not be too difficult to create an ‘anti-sanctions’ list of people and organisations that should not be sanctioned. A specially created structure within the European Union could do this.
Records of police arrests and court decisions in cases of unsanctioned protests and other reliable evidence of political repression could serve as grounds for inclusion in the ‘anti-sanctions’ list. Such people should be given ‘most-favoured’ treatment in relations with the free world. They should enjoy the full support of the West, not be sanctioned by it.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove