UK – What a Mess

Abramovich’s Chelsea is “frozen”. That will teach fans who to support.’ Photo: Amer Ghazzal

Simon Jenkins is one of the few Guardian columnists who has expressed sympathy for Scotland’s political ambitions. (This site makes no apology for publishing the work of the friends of Scotland, even if we do not always agree with it.) Here he discusses the futility of sanctions the UK is placing on Russia. Ordinary people are likely to feel the pain, he argues correctly, and none of the oligarchs directly targeted can influence Putin. Neither can musicians, composers, artists and writers dismissed by the West for not denouncing their homeland, an hysterical reaction where we punish anybody Russian. [Phrases in blue link to additional information.]


by Simon Jenkins

Boris Johnson is getting serious about Ukraine. He may not admit many Ukrainian refugees lest they endanger the Conservatives’ claim to being the party of low migration. But he is slamming sanctions on seven more London oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich, Igor Sechin and Oleg Deripaska. The high-profile trio, with four other oligarchs, are eerily accused of “enabling the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies”. Abramovich’s Chelsea football club is to be “frozen” and banned from selling tickets. That should teach Chelsea fans a lesson about who to support, and is meant to make Vladimir Putin shake in his shoes.

War is simple. You fight. You kill. You win or you lose. Economic war, on the other hand, is a mess of signals, boycotts, ill-defined targets and indiscriminate victims. Because it is bloodless, it is somehow detached from whatever issue is at hand. Almost invariably the real sufferers are the poor and impotent. As for Abramovich, what is he supposed to do? The likelihood of his going to Moscow and persuading his chum that the invasion of Ukraine was a terrible mistake must be zero. This is foreign policy as pure theatre.

Ukraine has summoned the West to collective action. The current surge in sanctions has generated a hysteria of Russia-hating gestures by western countries. This has clearly been aimed at relieving their justified reluctance to join or widen the Ukrainian war. The unity of the damnation has been impressive, even if the effectiveness has not. For all the shared condemnation, two weeks of truly colossal financial and commercial disruption have yet to deliver the slightest shift in Putin’s strategy; indeed, sanctions may have even hardened his lethal resolve.

Quite apart from Britain’s shocking aversion to refugees, its barrage of measures seem devoid of direction. Decades of profitable investment in Russia’s economy are somehow to end overnight. The chief effect could well be to repatriate billions of pounds of wealth – as in the case of BP and Shell – to the very oligarchs such actions are supposed to punish. Russia is now proposing to seize and nationalise closed western factories and other western activities, free of charge.

As Russian oil and gas will soon soar in value, Johnson’s decision to enforce sanctions may end up penalising British citizens with even higher energy bills. Who suffers and who gains by forecourt petrol hitting £2 a litre? The Saudis, the Iranians, the Venezuelans and eventually the Russians will laugh all the way to the bank. By banning Russian fertiliser exports, Johnson will punish British farmers. By banning wheat exports he will punish their chief consumers. Meanwhile, Johnson wants to resume British gas fracking and permit the proliferation of onshore wind turbines. Everyone cheers the “tough” gesture. No one ponders its usefulness.

Measures understandable in the heat of battle come to seem pointless and heartless far from the front. Nothing is gained by requiring Russian artists, performers and sports figures on pain of expulsion to denounce their homeland – risking the safety of their families in Russia. There are calls to strip private schools of charitable status if they take Russian pupils. The Welsh may not listen to the Russian Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, appropriately to be replaced by Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

In the ultimate obscenity, HM Revenue and Customs this week told British people not to send relief supplies to Ukraine as the trucks were being held at Calais for the correct Brexit permits in order to enter the EU. We should just give money instead. Why did Johnson not tell us in 2016 that leaving the single market would obstruct relief sent to victims of war?

Little of the news coming out of Russia is reliable. Still, Russia’s instinctive nationalism appears to be rallying to its leader’s cause, as tends to happen in war. Polls that have been registering Putin’s ailing popularity have shown it surging to near 70%. Of course this is aided by a savagely censored media and mendacious publicity machine. But it is no good blaming this for the ineffectiveness of sanctions. Such nationalism is predictable in war and was what sanctions had to overcome to have any impact. Would it now really help the Ukrainian cause if all Apple and Android servers stopped working, as some have demanded?

This appalling war is unlike most in Europe’s history in that it appears to be the will literally of one man rather than an entire country. None of Putin’s top brass are thought to have known of or supported it. Sheer terror now keeps them loyal. Yet no expert is predicting an early coup or assassination – let alone a new boyars’ plot of oligarchs sweeping into the Kremlin in gold-plated helicopters. Somehow or other, mediation is going to have to disentangle this horror on terms vaguely acceptable to Putin.

Then it will be in no one’s interest for the punitive ostracism of Russia to continue a moment longer, on the spurious grounds that ordinary Russians somehow “allowed” Putin to invade Ukraine. Punishing losers is a counter-productive outcome of war. It’s worth remembering the economic devastation and humiliation of Germany after 1918, or Russia after 1989. Ukraine will have to rebuild. So too will Russia. This is not kindness, just common sense.

NOTE: Sir Simon David Jenkins FSA FRSL is a British author and a newspaper columnist and editor. He was editor of the Evening Standard from 1976 to 1978 and of The Times from 1990 to 1992. Jenkins chaired the National Trust from 2008 to 2014. Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist where this article first appeared.


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6 Responses to UK – What a Mess

  1. peeliewallie says:

    Simon Jenkins and George Monbiot are two of the very few voices of reason in the English press these days.

  2. sadscot says:

    For me, the most frightening thing is that, as this escalates, and it’s escalating, there are no peacemakers in the west. They are waiting and watching and, I certainly feel, almost enjoying this. More and more, I see Ukraine as a pawn, being used in order to achieve other objectives for the west.
    Where are the peacemakers?

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    Good question. I had this very (brief) chat with a QC two days ago – the hysteria has everybody chanting for the Ukrainians to kill Russians while we send blankets and some machine guns.

  4. Donald McGregor says:

    I don’t think I read any suggestions in this piece as to what actions should be taken. And to have said war is simple – you fight, some people dir and then you win or lose is hopelessly wrong.

  5. ambouche says:

    War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
    The misinformation, propaganda by the western countries, more so , from the Yankee and English states
    Is overwhelming, whipping up a mass blood lust hysteria towards Russia.
    Of course their propaganda machines are second to none.
    There is dark forces at work in Ukraine, and what is happening outside of this sphere of operations, all pointing towards irrelevance of NATO and the Yankee state hegemony of world order in their image.
    We saw the dark forces at play across the globe
    CIA funded NGO’s to destabilise emerging social democracies, then the use of death squads led by their imposed dictators, on and on.
    Swingeing sanctions and other dark practices, to
    Starve the mass of peoples into submissions.
    Then illegal shock and awe wars under a full barrage of propaganda tools.
    Once again the dark forces show themselves, with the same players hidden in plain sight, the Yankee state.
    There was international agreements signed between Russia and Ukraine, they were broken by the so called Ukrainian government brokered by the yanks,
    No mention of the dark dealings from the boy next door , zelensky. Who funds him?, a Ukrainian Jewish oligarch who also funds the Bandera C14, SICH, and Azov battalions groups , extreme right wing fascists
    Or just fascists.
    Who controls the yanks but the Russian hating Zionist hawks in Washington, part of the whole American military industrial complex.
    Their God, forbid , Russia to grow and flourish on their own,nooo, can’t have that, China is in their sights to.
    The western countries puppets off the grand master puppeteer dance to their tune, their media feeds in the
    Selective propaganda, whilst not mentioning, avoiding , discounting any mention or reference to the western countries, NATO etc in the mass slaughter and destruction of nation states abroad, and are still doing it, albeit at arm’s length, get it ARMS length.
    The latest, look what the Russians did in Alleppo, whatever they did or not, some of it in relation to chemical attack , was proven wrong by independent
    Fake news.
    When you realise the majority western propaganda and their daily confetti of misinformation is fake,
    It becomes counter intuitive, soporific in fact.
    One fact, yes there are thousands of refugees getting out, ripped out of their way of life, fleeing for their lives.
    All because of a Yankee obsession to destabilise Russian and feed their own military complex, via once more , folks on the ground , that will do their bidding.
    Spin a line and get fanatics to do your dirty work.
    Everyone is going to pay, in the end.
    It’s happening , I hope the Russians in their quest , find
    The mass graves and uncover the truth .
    Can we handle the truth?
    My heart goes out to the ordinary Ukrainian folk and the folk everywhere across the globe, who’s lives have been cut short by western aggression.

    No ,no ,no we mustn’t go there

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