Sometimes I feature pieces whose authors’ worldviews differ significantly from mine. Take the last post but one, in which Richard Murphy’s starting point is that all-mouth-and-no-trousers speech by the UK’s newly imposed but terminally ailing PM. From there he goes on to nail the problems – some political, 1 some philosophical – ignored by her “growth, growth and more growth” vacuous grandstanding.
(That post sparked exchanges below the line which expose some of the deepest rifts within the ranks of those opposed to a political-economy which must – though few of us truly get this – prioritise profits over people; the few over the many; ‘growth’ over sanity.)
And here I go again. Patrick Cockburn is a journalist I disagree with on a few major things, while admiring his truthful reportage. Which is all I need say as preface to a post appearing yesterday in CounterPunch.
How the West’s Sanctions on Russia Boomeranged
When President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February, he began two very different wars. One was a military conflict in which the Russian armed forces have suffered repeated defeats, from the failure of the initial invasion to the successes of the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
This is where Mr Cockburn and I part company. As I indicated, also yesterday, in my intro to a piece by Caitlin Johnstone, I do not accept that Russia’s move of February 24 (or of February 21, with its recognition of Luhansk and Donbass independence) “began” anything. Rather, it was a consequence of three decades of Russian attempts at reason and diplomacy being rewarded by lies, insults and gross provocation.
(I could open up another debate here: on why liberal writers of talent and integrity – Richard Murphy, Naomi Klein, George Monbiot even 2 – make devastating errors of judgment through failure to see how their humanist perspective leaves them highly vulnerable to manipulation by the West’s sophisticated propaganda systems. See my 2017 post on ‘universalism’.)
Nor do I take at face value that quasi-military assessment of Russia suffering ‘repeated defeats’. First, questions of who has the upper hand are no less politically charged – with truth the first casualty – than are those of who is culpable. Second, as others have said – Moon of Alabama, Andrei Martyanov and Alex Mercouris – Western assessments of Russian strategy are (at best) guesses informed not only by the very different (and very unsuccessful) strategies of NATO, but by questionable assumptions as to what Moscow is trying to achieve. 3
Nevertheless, and as if to remind me of why I rate Mr Cockburn as highly as I do, he continues:
But the Ukrainian conflict also saw the start of an economic war waged against Russia by the West whose outcome is far more uncertain. The US, UK, EU and their allies have sought to impose a tight economic siege on Russia, focusing primarily on its oil and gas exports, to weaken it and compel it to give up its assault on Ukraine.
This second war, in contrast to the situation on the battlefield, has not been going well and the West suffered a serious setback this week when the Opec+ group, which includes Russia, decided to cut its crude exports by two million barrels a day in order to force up prices. The decision came despite intense lobbying of Saudi Arabia by the US where President Joe Biden is desperate to prevent the price Americans pay for petrol at the pump going up just before the midterm congressional elections in November. Reacting furiously to the news, the White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said that it was “clear” that Opec+ was “aligning with Russia”.
Embarrassing aspect of oil sanctions
The desire among Democrats to keep oil prices low is so intense that they have led to a little-noticed and – from the point of view of the US and many of its Nato allies – embarrassing aspect of oil sanctions on Russia. It is only because the sanctions have largely failed that the price of benchmark Brent crude fell 24 per cent from $123 a barrel in mid-June to $93.50 a barrel earlier this week.
This fall in prices, which is now going into reverse so the price may reach $100 by Christmas, happened in large part because Russia was able to reroute two-thirds of its lost sales to the West to countries such as India and China through which it entered the world oil market. This has been hugely convenient to the US because the slide in the oil price has prevented the rise in the cost of living being even higher …
The above notwithstanding, I attach a caveat even to Patrick Cockburn’s conclusions on those failed sanctions. What he overlooks, again due to limits inherent to his worldview, is that for a fast declining US Empire, 4 drawing Russia into a costly quagmire on her borders was never the sole aim. At least as important, given the business opportunities for Europe in Eurasia rising, is that of preventing Europe from moving closer to Russia and, ipso facto, China.
Europe’s sanctions on Russia have forced her to do what she should have been doing all along, which is to turn away from the West – God knows, the messages have been clear enough from that quarter – and look eastwards and southwards. While Europeans shiver and businesses go to the wall, Washington gets what it wanted; a Europe bound ever more tightly to its orbit.
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- An opinion piece in the Guardian yesterday, and well worth reading in full, offers this on the practical aspects of Truss’s plight. Under the header, Commanding no loyalty, with no winning moves, Liz Truss is facing her endgame, ConservativeHome deputy editor Henry Hill tells us: “Beneath the [Tory] dismay is a growing suspicion that there simply isn’t a viable Truss project at all … to calm the markets, Kwarteng has pledged to balance his £43bn of unfunded tax cuts with cuts to public spending. Yet no politically viable path to cuts on that scale exists.”
- As if to underline a more general point, Polly Toynbee – not that I’d call her a radical of the Murphy/Klein/Monbiot stamp – has a Guardian post out today on the dreadful state of Britain’s NHS. I do not believe her any more desirous than Starmer of getting behind real change. Her manage-capitalism-better worldview precludes her from seeing why the West’s FIRE economies, in which Britain takes joint first place with the USA, require the running down of the NHS. Nevertheless Ms Toynbee, armed as ever with the facts and in full attack mode, is a force to behold.
- Take the much trumpeted “failure of Russian forces to take Kiev”. Since NATO’s wars of subjugation require the seizure of cities to take over vital infrastructure, this objective is projected onto an army with the very different aim of securing territories whose large ethnic Russian populations are embroiled in an eight year civil war blissfully ignored in the West, because it wasn’t in the papers, but which has killed over 10,000. Yes, that these aims may change is a given in the fluid and potentially Armageddon situation Washington has spent decades engineering. (Some call us Putin apologists for saying such things, though none engage us on core specifics – how could they?) But I’ve yet to hear an account in Western media’s propaganda saturated coverage (again, see that Caitlin piece) which sets out how these columnists and reporters got to be such talented mind-readers. (Unlike me, they go not on what the Kremlin says and does but on what they say it wants to do.)
- A strikingly recurrent flaw in the perspective of otherwise progressive humanists is their failure to recognise that the US Empire is indeed “a thing”.