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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But first here’s my take. The deal announced Thursday to end the fighting in Ukraine will face the same obstacle the previous such agreement faced — how to ensure that Russia will abide by it.

Frustrated by Moscow’s continued support for Ukrainian separatists, Western statesmen have begun discussing military assistance for the Ukrainian government. But in trying to decide what would actually deter Moscow, it might be worth listening to what seems to scare Russians themselves. And it is not military aid to Kiev.

When asked recently about the possibility of so-called swift sanctions, which would bar Russia from participating in the international payment system centered on the dollar, Prime Minister Medvedev warned that Moscow’s response would be without limits.

It’s understandable why Putin’s closest associates are so rattled by the prospect of additional economic sanctions. The Russian economy is in free fall. In a report released this week, the International Energy Agency said that Russia is facing a perfect storm of collapsing prices, international sanctions and currency depreciation. The IMF projects Russia’s economy will contract by 3 percent in 2015.

And Putin needs strong oil revenues to maintain his power. From 2008 to 2009 when oil revenues did collapse during the global financial crisis, the Russian government increased its spending by a staggering 40 percent, all to preserve social stability. This according to the economists.

On the other hand, Russia could easily handle continuing its military skirmishing in eastern Ukraine. Moscow’s defense budget in 2014 was roughly 20 times that of Kiev’s, according to figures published this week by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The argument against sanctions is that while they may raise the cost for Russia, Putin has shown that he does not respond to higher costs in a rational calculating manner. But if that’s the case, then military aid for Ukraine won’t work either. No one believes that Kiev can actually prevail in a military contest with Moscow.

A recent think tank report urging military aid itself acknowledges that the aid package will merely raise the cost for the Kremlin in order to force it to then negotiate. In other words, the consensus is that the only possible strategy is to raise costs for Russia. The disagreement is really about what kinds of costs Vladimir Putin finds most onerous.

I think that military aid to Ukraine would stoke the fires of Russian nationalism, let Putin wrap himself in military colors and defend his, quote-unquote, “fellow Russians,” in an arena in which he will be able to ensure that Moscow prevails. For a regime that waged two bitter and costly wars in Chechnya, a region far less central to the Russian imagination than Ukraine, the loss of some men and money in a military operation is not likely to be much of a deterrent.

Why would the West want to move from its area of enormous strength, economic pressure, to an area where it will be outgunned in every sense?

If Russia breaks this fragile peace, then more sanctions should be considered. Senator Lindsey Graham recently offered the most honest reason why some in Washington are advocating military assistance. Even though it doesn’t seem likely to work, it’s a way of doing something in the face of Russian aggression.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don’t know how this ends if you give them defensive capability but I know this. I will feel better because when my nation was needed to stand up to the garbage and stand by freedom, I stood by the freedom.

ZAKARIA: But the purpose of American foreign policy is not to make Lindsey Graham feel better. It is to actually achieve American objectives on the ground. That means picking your battles and weapons carefully.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1502/15/fzgps.01.html

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Posted February 16, 2015 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But first, here is my take. If you’re trying to decide what to think about the deal struck between the major powers and Iran, here’s a suggestion. Imagine what would have happened if there had been no deal.

In fact, one doesn’t have to use much imagination. In 2003, Iran approached the United States with an offer to talk about its nuclear program. The Bush administration rejected the offer because it believed that the Iranian regime was weak, had been battered by sanctions, and would either capitulate or collapse if Washington just stayed tough.

So there was no deal. What was the result? Iran had 164 centrifuges operating in 2003. Today, it has 19,000. Had the Geneva talks with Iran broken down, Iran would have continued expanding its nuclear program.

Yes they are now under tough sanctions but they were under sanctions then as well. And yet, the number of centrifuges grew exponentially. Despite all the sanctions, keep in mind, the costs of a nuclear program are small for an oil rich country like Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been opposed to a deal. But is it in Israel’s interest that Iran’s program keep growing in size and scope?

That’s a strategy that assumes that either Iran is heading for collapse, or that a military strike will take place that would permanently destroy Iran’s entire nuclear program and it wouldn’t get rebuilt. This seems more like wishful thinking than strategy. The agreement that the major powers have gotten in Geneva essentially freezes Iran’s program for six months and rolls back some key aspects of it while a permanent deal is negotiated.

In return, Iran gets about $7 billion of sanctions relief, a fraction of what is in place against it. The main sanctions against its oil and banking sectors stay fully in place.

This is a sensible deal signed off on by France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, as well as the United States and Iran. But it is just an interim deal and not a historic rapprochement and that’s why so much of the opposition to it is misplaced.

Washington has many points of disagreement with Tehran, from its opposition to Israel and its support for Hezbollah to its funding of Iraq militias. This is not like Nixon’s opening to China. It’s more like an arms control deal with the Soviet Union, with two wary adversaries trying to find some common ground.

Many countries in the Middle East, from Israel to Saudi Arabia, have legitimate concerns about Iran. But many of these countries have also gotten used to having a permanent enemy against whom they could rail, focusing domestic attention, driving ideological and sectarian divides, garnering support.

The Middle East is undergoing so much change. Perhaps this is one more change. Perhaps Iran will come in from the Cold. For now though, it is just one step, not a seismic shift. But it is a step forward.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1311/24/fzgps.01.html

Posted November 25, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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