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Published on August 11th, 2014 | by Lorna Carnegie
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Economic Sanctions: Are We Reheating the Cold War?

While the EU and US continue to extend sanctions against Russia, other proposals about how to dissuade her further expansion are arising. A popular new idea is that the World Cup in 2018, to be hosted by Russia should be boycotted. However isolating Russia may not be the solution to stifling her expansion and could instead have dangerous unintended consequences. We have seen throughout history countries struggle to maintain peace and, with increased globalisation and interdependence, cooperation in the 21st century is becoming all the more important. However if we look back at history we see that the isolation of countries has often lead to further international turmoil.

If we look at Germany after the Treaty of Versailles had just been enforced on her, she was bankrupt and having to pay reparations, she was stripped of her lands and army and she was isolated and excluded from the newly formed League of Nations. Then, just 30 years later she would spark, once again, a devastating and disastrous war. There are of course a number of complex reasons as to why war broke out, however one must note that Hitler’s increased popularity came about through his promise to save and restore Germany. He got Germany into the League of Nations, he rebuilt Germany’s army and he regained much of Germany’s s land and so ensured mass support. Without these factors support for Hitler may not have snowballed in the way it did and these factors would not have arisen had the allies not ostracised Germany and isolated her after her surrender. One must therefore conclude that the isolation of Germany in this instance led to her feeling vulnerable and gave Hitler the opportunity to restore her and take revenge on the West, which the German people now believed were cruel and unjust. I am, of course, not suggesting that Vladimir Putin is about to start WW3 in the next 30 years, however I am suggesting that by isolating Russia we give Putin the opportunity to paint the West as the bad guys once again. Does this not surely then lead us back to a Cold war situation?

Years of fear during the cold war and the tipping point of the Cuban missile crisis led to increased communications and, more specifically, a direct-line between the Whitehouse and the Kremlin for instant communications to ensure they did not break down again. Although the Whitehouse-Kremlin hotline is still in use communications are stagnating as US and EU put in place measures which ensure minimal interaction with Russia in response to Putin’s actions over Ukraine.

Putin believes that the West already has made moves back in the direction of the Cold war by pursuing a policy of containment and trying to reduce Russia’s global influence. The BBC have acknowledged that there is a significant chill in relations between Russia and the West, however they claim that it is not a return to the Cold war, yet rather contradictorily they say that this is a freeze in relations, the like of which has not been seen in over 20 years. We must hope that the 21st century interconnected and globalised world will not allow for a return to a Cold war position as the consequences would have major economic implications for all countries involved.

Russia had been a valued member of the G8 grouping of advanced industrialised countries however the 2014 meet did not involve Russia. It was supposed to take place in Sochi but the other G7 leaders snubbed the meet in Russia and instead met in Brussels without Russia, due to Russia’s “illegal annexation” of the Crimea. David Cameron has gone as far as to warn NATO that he feels it must loosen its ties with Moscow and lessen its dependencies in order to ensure that it is able to better defend member states from a potential Russian military threat.

It has now been revealed that, in response to the sanctions placed on Russia by the EU and the US, Putin will respond by enacting his own sanctions banning the import of agricultural goods and other food items from the West despite fears that this will lead to a rise in food prices in Russia and increased unrest among the people. Although not a massive blow to most of the countries’ effected the move shows a deepening in the economic standoff between Russia and the West. If the EU and the US respond in a similar manner this tit for tat battle will continue and, like as not, the stakes will be raised. Russian officials have been reported to be considering stopping European airlines from flying in Serbian airspace on route to Asia which would have fair greater implications than the banning of European food imports.

As Putin cannot be seen by his people to be weaker than leaders of the West he must be seen to retaliate to their threats like for like, whatever the cost and therefore it is likely that this situation will escalate before a diplomatic solution is reached.

Washington and many of Europe’s capitals are in agreement that the economic sanctions must put an even tighter squeeze on Russia, however they are wary not to target the gas sector, a sector which most of Europe is dependent on. Therefore the situation must be carefully calculated for if Russia can cut off Europe’s gas supply, although having economic implications for Russia, the consequences for Europe would be disastrous. We must therefore tread carefully in the uncertain times and be sure to use the advantage of hindsight to ensure that we do not end up repeating history and find ourselves back in dangerous but avoidable situations.

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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