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Posts Tagged ‘ECONOMIC SANCTIONS’

DICTATORS AND THEIR HUBRIS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 23, 2022 at 1:06 am

On February 28, CNN’s website published the following headline: Russia faces financial meltdown as sanctions slam its economy.

The story opened:

“Russia was scrambling to prevent financial meltdown Monday as its economy was slammed by a broadside of crushing Western sanctions imposed over the weekend in response to the invasion of Ukraine.”  

That unprovoked attack opened on February 24, with missile and artillery attacks, striking major Ukrainian cities, including Kiev. 

Russia 'threatening Ukraine With Destruction', Kyiv Says | Conflict News - Newzpick

Ukraine vs. Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin had every reason to believe that the conquest of Ukraine would be a cakewalk. Intent on restoring the borders of the former Soviet Union, he had swept from one successful war to the next:

  • In 1999-2000, he waged the Second Chechen War, restoring federal control of Chechnya.
  • In 2008, he invaded the Republic of Georgia, which had declared its independence as the Soviet Union began to crumble. By war’s end, Russia occupied 20% of Georgia’s territory.
  • In 2014, Putin invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched only verbal condemnations.

The reasons:

  • Fear of igniting a nuclear war; 
  • Belief that Russia was simply acting within its own sphere of influence; and/or
  • Then-President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on NATO and displays of subservience to Putin.

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NATO emblem

Russia had began massing troops on the Ukrainian border in 2021. 

When the invasion came, the United States and its Western European allies retaliated with unprecedented economic sanctions. 

Among the resulting casualties: 

  • The ruble crashed.
  • Russia’s central bank more than doubled interest rates to 20%.
  • The Moscow stock closed for the day.
  • The European subsidiary of Russia’s biggest bank was about to collapse in a massive Depression-era run by savers. 
  • Economists predicted the Russian economy could decline by five percent. 
  • The West—especially the United States—has frozen at least half of the $630 billion in international reserves that Putin had amassed to stave off tough sanctions.

On the battlefield, the war has bogged down for Russia:

  • Kiev remains unconquered. 
  • Ukrainian forces have driven Russians from the second-largest Ukrainian city of Kharkov.  
  • The Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, was sunk on April 14 after being struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.

In short: The war is not going the way Putin assumed it would.

Vladimir Putin 17-11-2021 (cropped).jpg

Vladimir Putin 

Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

This is not the first time a dictator has guessed wrong about the results of his actions.

On September 1, 1939, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler ordered his armies to invade Poland. 

Almost a year earlier—on September 29, 1938—he had bullied British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier into surrendering the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

The Munich Agreement—which Chamberlain boasted meant “peace in our time—only whetted Hitler’s appetite for greater conquests.

It also led him to hold France and England in contempt: “Our enemies are little worms,” he said in a conference with his generals. “I saw them at Munich.”

He believed he could conquer Poland, and Chamberlain and Daladier would meekly ratify his latest acquisition. 

Adolf Hitler

So he was stunned when, on September 3, 1939, Britain and France—however reluctantly—honored their pledged word to Poland and declared war on Germany.

“What now?” Hitler furiously asked his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Ribbentrop had no answer.

Hitler knew that Germany didn’t have the resources for a long war. He had intended to fight a series of quick, small wars, gobbling up one country at a time. Now he found himself locked in an endless war with heavyweights France and England.

In time, he would fatally add the Soviet Union and the United States to his list of enemies.

And he stayed locked into that war until he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, and the Third Reich officially collapsed on May 7.

Fast forward to March 21, 2003 and President George W. Bush’s launching of an attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. 

Related image

George W. Bush

The war got off to an impressive start with 1,700 air sorties and 504 Cruise missiles. 

Within roughly two weeks, American ground forces entered Baghdad, and after four days of intense fighting, the Iraqi regime fell. By April 14, the Pentagon reported that major military operations had ended.

On May 1, 2003, Bush declared that the war was won.

But then American forces became embroiled in an endless, nationwide guerrilla war. Eighteen years later, the United States was still fighting in Iraq. 

The war that Bush had deliberately provoked:

  • Took the lives of 4,484 Americans.
  • Cost the United States Treasury at least $2 trillion.
  • Created a Middle East power vacuum.
  • Allowed Iran—Iraq’s arch enemy—to eagerly fill it.
  • Frightened and repelled even America’s closest allies.
  • Killed at least 655,000 Iraqis. 
  • Frightened China and Russia into expanding the size of their militaries. 

Bush came to a better end than Adolf Hitler: He retired from office with a lavish pension and full Secret Service protection.

And Putin? 

His attack on Ukraine was reportedly motivated, in part, to ensure that Ukrainians did not join NATO. 

If true, he must be enraged and disturbed that his invasion has frightened Sweden and Finland into joining NATO.

And NATO is now fully revitalized to meet future Russian threats.

Thus can the worst intentions of hubristic dictators come undone.

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES 11

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 30, 2022 at 12:14 am

Sometimes your worst enemies aid you in ways you could never help yourself.

From July 10 to October 31, 1940, hundreds of badly-outnumbered pilots of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) fought off relentless attacks by Germany’s feared Luftwaffe—since known as the Battle of Britain.

But Adolf Hitler wasn’t prepared to give up. He believed he could so terrorize Britons that they would insist that their government submit to German surrender demands.

From September 7, 1940 to May 21, 1941, the Luftwaffe subjected England—and especially London—to a ruthless bombing campaign that became known as The Blitz.

The undamaged St. Paul’s Cathredal, December, 1940

More than 100 tons of high explosives were dropped on 16 British cities.  

During 267 days—almost 37 weeks—between 40,000 and 43,000 British civilians were killed. About 139,000 others were wounded.

Clearly, what Great Britain desperately needed most was a miracle.

Exactly that happened on June 22, 1941.

With 134 Divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more divisions for deployment behind the front, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

World War II – Operation Barbarossa – Army Tanks

German tanks invading Russia

Joseph Stalin, the longtime Soviet dictator, was stunned. The invasion had come less than two years after Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

Now they were locked in a fight to the death.

People in England were suddenly hopeful. Britain now had a powerful ally whose resources might tip the balance against Hitler.

Fast forward to 2022.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created in March, 1949 by the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In 1952, Greece, Turkey and West Germany were admitted. 

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NATO emblem

Its purpose: To provide collective security against the Soviet Union.

Following World War II, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had refused to withdraw his occupying forces from the Eastern European countries they had entered on their way to defeating Nazi Germany.

These Soviet-dominate countries: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and East Germany. 

Behind NATO stood the threat of the American “nuclear umbrella”—and Article V, which states that an attack on one ally would trigger a counterattack by all of them. 

From its founding in 1949 to 2017, America’s leadership of NATO—and the importance of the alliance—remained unquestioned. 

The Presidency of Donald J. Trump (2017-2021) dramatically changed both. 

From the outset, Trump attacked NATO as being “very unfair” to the United States. He attacked its members as deadbeats who didn’t contribute an equal share of monies to the organization. 

But Trump’s disdain for NATO may well have been grounded in his “bromance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Related image

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin press conference

He had refused to accept the unanimous conclusion of the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency that Russia had interfered in the 2016 Presidential election to put him in the White House over Hillary Clinton.

He had often praised Putin, both during the 2016 campaign and after entering the White House.

And he had publicly defended Putin against these agencies in an infamous press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018. 

On January 14, 2019, the New York Times reported that, several times in 2018, Trump discussed withdrawing the United States from NATO. This would effectively doom the 29-nation alliance and empower Russia, which had spent years seeking to weaken it.

Meanwhile, Putin, intent on restoring the borders of the former Soviet Union, swept from one war to the next.

  • In 1999-2000, he waged the Second Chechen War, restoring federal control of Chechnya.
  • In 2008, he invaded the Republic of Georgia, which had declared its independence as the Soviet Union began to crumble. The war ended with 20% of Georgia’s territory under Russian military occupation.
  • In 2014, Putin invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. 

Through all of this, NATO did nothing but launch verbal condemnations.

The reason:

  • Fear of igniting a nuclear war; and/or
  • Belief that Russia was simply acting within its own sphere of influence.

Coupled with Trump’s repeated displays of subservience, it’s likely that Putin felt he could get away with any aggression.

On February 24, Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. And those who had thought the Cold War was over realized it wasn’t.

Suddenly, NATO came alive—with a vengeance:

  • At least 40,000 allied troops are now under direct NATO command in the eastern part of the alliance.
  • More than 130 fighter jets are on advanced high alert.
  • More than 200 allied ships are stationed at sea in the region.
  • NATO activated defense plans that would allow military commanders to deploy elements of the multinational Response Force.

Perhaps most important, the United States has a President—Joe Biden—who is not in thrall to Putin. As a result, it has led the world in imposing harsh economic sanctions on Russia:

  • Russia has become a global economic pariah. 
  • Over 30 countries, representing well over half the world’s economy, have announced sanctions and export controls targeting Russia.
  • The country’s banking system has all but collapsed.
  • On the stock market, the ruble is worth less than the penny.
  • And oligarchs linked to Putin have had their assets frozen around the world.

Seventy-nine years ago, events turned around for England when all seemed lost. The same has happened for NATO and the United States.

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