P&H: Could sanctions ultimately work in Putin’s favor?

Politics and History is not intended to support or criticize any individual or political party. Its goal is to use historical events to spark thought-provoking dialogue.

This article at a glance:

  • 60 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, America and Russia are again “eyeball to eyeball”
  • Understanding Putin’s end-goal is critical to defeating him
  • Prolonged sanctions may actually strengthen Putin’s domestic position
  • Putin’s goal appears to be a consolidation of Russian strength while weakening America’s hold on former territories of the USSR
JP Robinson
JP Robinson

JP Robinson is a former teacher of European languages, psychology and history. He is also a minister and author of historical suspense. His work has been published by Focus on the Family, Guideposts and others. His work has hit the #1 spot in Amazon’s Historical Thrillers category, and has been praised by Publisher’s Weekly.

Eyeball to Eyeball

In 1962, at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis, American Secretary of State Dean Rusk leaned over to National Security Agency McGeorge Bundy and famously whispered, “We were eyeball to eyeball and I think the other guy just blinked.”

Almost sixty years to the day, America and Russia are again poised for military conflict while the world watches with bated breath to see who will blink first.

Vladimir Putin

While understanding what brought us to this point is important, understanding Putin’s end-goal—as well as how far the United States is prepared to go to deny Putin this win—is critical.

As mentioned in my first article in P&H, Putin is in this for the long haul. He knows his days are limited, and is willing to risk everything to fulfil his diabolical dreams no matter who he has to hurt in the process.

The protests by his own people, the tragic deaths of journalists, or the negative worldview of his czarist ideologies—none of them carry any weight because, like any dictator, Putin has already considered the implications before taking action.

Which begs the question: what is Putin’s end-goal?

Putin’s actions hint at two primary objectives:

  1. To re-establish Russia’s influence over former USSR territories
  2. To dramatically reduce western geopolitical influence in Eastern Europe

That said, economic turbulence may ultimately help him achieve his goals. Let’s take a closer look.

Sanctions may ultimately work in Putin’s favor

While the United States has been responding to Russia’s aggression with sanctions, history shows us that we may be playing directly into Putin’s bloodied hands.

Here’s how:

At the conclusion of WW1, the victorious Allies slapped Germany with crippling economic legislations that left it responsible for almost $269 billion in today’s dollars.

Germany’s economy was already floundering after the devastating war. The economic instability, hyperinflation, etc was designed to punish Germany and, hopefully, prevent the nation from rearming.

the exact opposite Happened.

While the draconian terms of the Versailles Treaty revolved around more than war reparations, in general, the economic impact was the driving means of punishing Germany (via loss of its colonies and the assumption of war debt). John Keynes, a British economist who attended the peace conference but ultimately left in protest wrote the following:

If the European Civil War is to end with France and Italy abusing their momentary victorious power to destroy Germany and Austria -Hungary now prostrate, they invite their own destruction also, being so deeply and inextricably intertwined with their victims by hidden psychic and economic bonds.

The Economic Consequences of the Peace

Though ignored at the time, Keynes was completely right. Hunger, unemployment, and general disillusionment created the perfect framework for Hitler’s rise and ultimately led the world back to war.

Economic turbulence leads to poor decision-making

When we think of Nazi Germany, we’re often tempted to immediately classify everyone as being irrational fanatics. That simply isn’t true.

While I would never attempt to justify Germany’s actions—and have paid respects at Dachau concentration camp and Yad Vashem Remembrance Center—it’s important to realize that Germany was a desperate nation in need of both a savior and a scapegoat. Hitler took advantage of the economic conditions created by the Versailles Treaty and pretended to be the nation’s savior while giving an outlet for its collective blame—Germany’s Jewish citizens.

Logic would state that no rational German would support a man who threatened war after the devastating impact of WW1 only twenty years earlier. But economic turbulence when combined with intense propaganda make a volatile mix.

In general, German citizens rallied around Hitler. My concern is that, as the world continues to create a climate of Russian economic uncertainty, we may well push the general Russian populace into Putin’s arms just as the Allied nations pushed Germany toward Hitler with the crushing terms of the Versailles Treaty.

When lies become truth

With enough propaganda, and without access to free information, lies can easily become the accepted truth. With enough repetition of the rhetoric—and the elimination of open access to information— in the eyes of the Russians, the West will become the villain who is cruelly oppressing the Russian people both economically and politically.

Vadim Ismakaev, a Russian who moved to the United States at age 18 was recently quoted on Fox News:

“The rhetoric from the Russian people, especially from the ones who are feeling the full effects of the sanctions and their life is taking a huge downturn, they’re becoming more and more pro-War and pro-Putin,” 

If Ismakaev is correct, this changing attitude may soon complicate efforts for the West to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine War. The deaths of western journalists, the clampdown on social media, and the ongoing internal propaganda demonstrate that Russia is only interested in their side of the story being heard. This, coupled with frustration over western sanctions that have drained their life savings, may encourage the average Russian to back Putin.

And Putin will need that unity if he wants to rebuild the USSR and further unhinge the geopolitical balance.

Next week: How China could learn from Russia’s mistake

Back to you

What impact do you think sanctions will have on the Ukraine War?

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