VLADIMIR Putin's contrived emphasis on self-reliance is at best an attempt to put up a brave face before the world, an academic response to the stringent cache of sanctions on Russia imposed by the USA and the European Union. The apparent nonchalance can scarcely camouflage the severity of the economic reprisal in the aftermath of the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner, suspected to be the handiwork of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The latest round of sanctions is far more punitive than the initial curbs at the individual level. The West has seemingly shed its diplomatic impotence, but the turning of the screw after eight months of turmoil cannot dispel the impression that the package amounts to too much, too late. It has been unveiled after considerable dithering since last November; considering the escalation of the crisis and Putin's expansionist intent, the sanctions ought to have been clamped ahead of the annexation of Crimea in March. However belatedly, Russia has now been reduced to a position of unsplendid isolation on both sides of the Atlantic. The sanctions are bound to have a two-pronged impact—diplomatic as much as economic. They will doubtless impinge on Moscow's dealings with the West. From the economic perspective, they will have a damaging impact, of a kind that might be felt by ordinary Russians, most particularly the post-Soviet generation that over the years has been accustomed to chic consumerism.
The punitive action does suggest that Putin's strategy in Ukraine has backfired, though on the face of it he did maintain a distance from the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. There was little doubt over the past few months that the Kremlin was encouraging and aiding the insurgency in eastern Ukraine, without leaving distinct fingerprints ... till the conflagration extended from the ground to the skies. The strategy also involved coming to terms with Kiev without causing a rupture in Russia's relations with Europe. That diplomatic construct is now crumbling.
Historically, sanctions cannot readily bring a regime to its knees, but they do serve as an economic blockade. And it shall not be easy for Russia's international trade, the vital transmission of gas, and the buoyancy of its financial markets to thrive without the economic cooperation of the West. That cooperation in matters of trade has now floundered on the rock of assertion by Europe and America. International power-play has entered a new phase. More than two decades after the eclipse of Communism, the West is Russia's adversary again.
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