Standort: / Meldung: "This would seem a bad week for the Kremlin"

Charles Maynes Moscow

Journalist in Moscow

1. 8. 2014 - 12:15

This would seem a bad week for the Kremlin

"America and Europe think they’re being very tough, but to our elite, it comes across as cowardice." - To the Kremlin inner circle the sanctions against the Russian economy looks like the West is afraid to fight and to send troops into Ukraine.

On top of the allegations of Moscow's culpability in the downing of Malaysia Air Flight 17, western governments finally announced long-awaited “sectoral” sanctions against the Russian economy. They’re punishment for Russia’s continued support of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

Now, the US – and more importantly, the European Union – are imposing a range of penalties and embargoes on Russia's energy, banking, and defense sectors. High-ranking Kremlin officials were also added to travel ban lists in Europe. Adding insult to injury, an arbitration court in The Hague ruled this week that Russia owes shareholders of Yukos Oil $50 billion for illegally re-nationalizing the oil and gas company a decade ago.

EU sanctions


But if all this was designed to change the Kremlin's “calculus” in Ukraine, Russian political analyst Feodor Krashenninikov says don't bet on it: Russia's political elite operate by different rules.

“America and Europe think they’re being very tough, but to our elite, it comes across as cowardice.” He says to the Kremlin inner circle, it looks like the West is afraid to fight and to send troops into Ukraine. All they can do is impose sanctions that don’t touch us. The thinking is, “We send troops into Ukraine, what are you going to do then?”

Publically, though, Russian officials are taking a softer line. They insist western partners – they always refer to them as partners – ignore the Kremlin's efforts to sponsor peace talks in eastern Ukraine.

In a Monday press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that sanctions would not reduce the Kremlin to hysterics. "(To) Respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country," Lavrov noted.

In fact, Lavrov, President Putin, and others in the Kremlin have said that sanctions provide Russia with an opportunity of sorts - a chance to look inward and develop underperforming portions of the Russian economy.

Not everyone buys that.

“I think there is a large self-delusional component. I mean when you don’t like something, you pretend there’s a positive sign to this,” says Konstantin Sonin, an economist with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

“Of course they’re damaging to the Russian economy,” he adds. “But the damage won’t be immediate so an ordinary Russian citizen would not see any kind of effect in his or her daily life.

At Moscow’s VDNKh park (the name translates as the ‘Exhibition of Achievements of the People's Economy'), Russians can stroll past grand exhibits of past Soviet economic achievement;

Or they would, if it weren’t so f'ing hot out. Most people are sitting by the park's water fountain just trying to beat the heat.

When asked about the round of new sanctions, Russians here react with equal doses of resolve and resentment.

“It’s unfair. No one loves Russia except for Russians themselves,” says Yulia, a government worker.

Another woman, Olga, says people in the US and Europe are uninformed. “Russia has nothing to do with Ukraine,” she says, adding that she follows events about Ukraine on Russian TV.

A student named Vika in a New York Yankees baseball cap assured me, “These sanctions will go nowhere. In place of Europe, we’ll have other partners.”

VDNKH Fountain

Charles Maynes

Sevold and Nikolai

Later, I came across Sevold and Nikolai, two former soldiers turned Siberian husky traders out for a swim. They admitted concern about the sanctions but, said Nikolai, "the government will never bend."

"Just like they didn’t for Hitler and Napolean. Russians are hardheaded that way."

Recent independent polls suggest some 60 percent of Russians remain unconcerned about the impact of the sanctions. The economist Konstantin Sonin says it may take years before the bite of sanctions are felt among the elite - which has some western leaders asking if they shouldn’t target the Kremlin where it hurts: Russia’s hosting of the World Cup in 2018.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond recently joined a growing chorus of European and American figures calling for Russia to be stripped of the honor. The event is widely considered a personal prestiege project of Putin's – much like the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year.

But orchestrating sanctions by western countries is one thing - and convincing an international body to take up the Ukraine issue entirely another.

Some Russians even see a possible benefit should Europe choose to boycott the event: This time, the Russian team might actually win a game.