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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Newsweek: Punishing the Russians won’t stop the war

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Richard Hanania, president of the American Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, saw the war against the oligarchs as the latest front in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Given the lack of a clear definition of the word “oligarch”, it looks very much like a war against any Russian with money, fueling an atmosphere of ethnic hatred in the West.

Richard Hanania, president of the American Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, saw the war against the oligarchs as the latest front in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war centers on the logic that the West can punish the rich to see what is wrong with their methods and force them to persuade Putin to end the war. Under this policy, yachts and homes were seized, sparking so much interest and uproar on social media that The Washington Post described it as “gloating at sea.”

If the goal of punishing the oligarchs was to please Twitter users who put Ukrainian flags in their photos, the mission would have been a resounding success. But if the goal was to pit the oligarchs against the war, the Biden administration probably shouldn’t have worried about that.

many have already done
Hanania explains in “Newsweek” that many oligarchs, particularly those who may be affected by Western sanctions, are fundamentally against the war. This is not surprising; Wealthy elites rely on trade and travel and thus tend not to be the most supportive demographic of war. Although US President Joe Biden claimed that the oligarchs supported Putin, several of them criticized the invasion of Ukraine.

As soon as the war started, the founder of the Rusal mining conglomerate, Oleg Deripaska, wrote a letter of support for peace and called for talks to end the conflict as soon as possible. And Oleg Tinkov, a banking and consumer goods tycoon, further emphasized the importance of the path of peace: “Innocent people are dying in Ukraine today, every day; this is unthinkable and unacceptable.” When Roman Abramovich was forced to sell Chelsea Football Club due to sanctions, he promised to transfer the profits to the victims of the war in Ukraine.

effective policy?
Hanania continued her article, noting that this policy seemed to work for some sanctions supporters. Dartmouth professor Brooke Harrington wrote an article in The Atlantic that if figures like these were to call for an end to the war, sanctions would be far more effective than previous Western efforts to target the Russian elite. The oligarchs, Harrington added, “provide invaluable public support to the regime, control key corporations and institutions, distract from the president’s vast wealth and, by some accounts, help hide it.”

Hanania points out that Harrington is not an expert on Russia, but rather a sociologist who studies topics such as wealth inequality and tax havens. Those more familiar with the Putin regime itself almost always have a different opinion.

This is Russia today
Mikhail Friedman is the founder of Alpha Bank and another wealthy critic of the war. Friedman acknowledges that the sanctions impose personal costs on men like him, but points out that individual oligarchs “have no influence over political decisions.” While some may not want to believe Friedman, the latter’s view aligns closely with that of scholars of Russian politics.

Journalist Max Sidon noted that when Putin invited business leaders to discuss the war effort, there were only a few oligarchs in the “classical sense” of the word: men like Deripaska who grew rich from Russia’s privatized industries. Instead, most of them were CEOs with roots in the KGB. In other words, Russia today is a one-man government and trusted national security elites, not oligarchic elites.

Daniel Fried, Obama’s assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, helped formulate basic sanctions against Russia in 2014. Fried points out that the oligarchs are bound by Putin and that he can jail or kill them at will, which means it’s nonsense. think they can influence the industry The decision rests with the Russian president.

Why is the Biden administration going after rich Russians?
Hanania replies that it is no mystery in an American environment where Russian companies are sabotaged and Russian athletes are asked to denounce their government so they can compete in sporting events. The rich are often the scapegoats and when they are wealthy foreigners from a country Westerners are upset with, it becomes obvious to attack them. But letting emotions and demagoguery drive American behavior has real costs.

Given the lack of a clear definition of the word “oligarch”, it looks very much like a war against any Russian with money, fueling an atmosphere of ethnic hatred in the West. Above all, denouncing the “oligarchs” is another distraction from understanding the causes of the war and how to end it.

Where is the art of judgment?
Ananias wrote of a time when American leaders took other countries’ national security concerns seriously and tried to accommodate them. Instead of developing detailed theories about how the seizure of some yachts would end the war, the leaders engaged in negotiations that tried to find common ground. Nixon’s opening to China and Bush Sr.’s handling of the end of the Cold War are two clear examples of this. In conclusion, Hanania regrets that the Americans have abandoned illusions and demagoguery in place of statecraft. The results of this approach can be seen in the internal hysteria and broken cities of the Ukraine.

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