The Ukrainian capital Kyiv is suffering under rocket attacks from Russian forces. As Vladimir Putin moves on the seat of government, people in the warzone are asking: Where’s the support? In a damning exhortation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the West of standing by while his nation is destroyed. In an early morning address, Friday, Feb. 25, Zelensky lamented:
“This morning, we are defending our state alone. Like yesterday, the world’s most powerful forces are watching from afar … Did yesterday’s sanctions convince Russia? We hear in our sky and see on our earth that this was not enough.”
“Today, I have asked 27 European leaders whether Ukraine will be in NATO. I have asked directly – everyone is afraid, no one answers,” he continued. Zelensky’s words highlighted that NATO and other ally nations might be more concerned with presenting a united image than providing the aid he feels is necessary. This state of affairs was made apparent in President Joe Biden’s address and press briefing the day before.
On Thursday, Feb. 24, Mr. Biden announced that the U.S., NATO, and E.U. partners had come together in an unprecedented display of cooperation to apply sanctions against Russian banking organizations. This narrative of unity is being echoed by the majority of the Fourth Estate and, in fact, lauded as only possible because of Biden’s “strong leadership.” And yet, when questioned by some reporters, the curtain was pulled back.
One particular bone of contention has been whether Russia would be expelled from SWIFT – the international banking system that acts as an intermediary and executor of financial transactions between banks worldwide. It has long been recognized as the trump card in sanctions because it would limit Putin’s ability to deal financially with the rest of the world. But when asked by a reporter why such action was not being taken and if there was disagreement among allies about SWIFT and whether Russia should be part of it, the response fractured the unity narrative. Biden said, “it is always an option. But right now, that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.” Meaning that it was discussed and that other members of the international group were opposed to it.
This fracturing of opinion was also highlighted by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who, along with Biden, backed the idea of barring Russia from SWIFT. “The European Union has left Britain and the US frustrated after the bloc failed to agree to boot Russia out of the world’s biggest financial payments system. Meanwhile, politicians in Kiev accused the EU of having blood on its hands for not taking tough enough action,” reports British newspaper The Express.
European Union leaders voiced concerns over keeping Russia from the system because, as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says, “it would also have an enormous impact on ourselves.”
Full Support, But Not Quite
Zelensky’s assessment of the sanctions packages and the response of allies should, perhaps, not be too surprising. A significant number of ally troops have been repositioned to support NATO members and act as a deterrent to attacks on NATO soil. But this does not seem to be a concern to Vladimir Putin, whose present focus is entirely on Ukraine. By falling short of cutting Russia from the SWIFT system, this allegedly unified alliance has sent a clear signal that it wants international business and trade to continue as smoothly as possible despite the invasion.
President Biden made two other points very clear during his press conference. First, that American forces “are not and will not be engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine.” And also that the sanctions were never intended as a deterrent. He said:
“… no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening … This is going to take time. And we have to show resolve so he [Putin] knows what’s coming and so the people of Russia know what he’s brought on them. That’s what this is all about.
“This is going to take time. It’s not going to occur — he’s going to say, ‘Oh my God, these sanctions are coming. I’m going to stand down.'”
So what then is the purpose?
If the sanctions were not meant to deter an invasion, and if the so-called united front of Europe and the U.S. is not willing to commit to sanctions that could cause itself financial inconvenience, what then is the actual strategy?
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.
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