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Daily Archives: March 15, 2022

Infographic: Ukraine’s Top Trading Partners and Products

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Explainer: How Plausible Is Chinese Military Aid for Russia?

The U.S. says Russia has asked China to provide military assistance for its war in Ukraine, and that China has responded affirmatively. Both Moscow and Beijing have denied the allegation, with a Chinese spokesperson dismissing it as “disinformation.”

Still, the claims have generated conjecture over how far Beijing would be willing to go in backing its “most important strategic partner,” as China’s foreign minister recently described Russia.

WHAT DID THE U.S. SAY?

Following initial reports that Russia had asked China for military aid, unnamed U.S. officials said that Washington had determined that China had sent a signal to Russia: Beijing would be willing to provide both military support for the campaign in Ukraine and financial backing to help stave off the impact of severe sanctions imposed by the West.

At a meeting in Rome on Monday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi against providing such support, even as the Kremlin denied requesting military equipment.

The U.S. is wary of China’s intentions because the government of President Xi Jinping has refused to criticize the Russian invasion, even as it seeks to distance itself from the Kremlin’s war by calling for dialogue and reiterating its position that a nation’s territory must be respected.

WHAT MIGHT CHINA OFFER?

If anything, smaller items such as bullets and meals are more likely than fighter jets and tanks, experts said.

China “probably wants to avoid high-profile or big-ticket arms sales to Russia in the midst of a conflict which would expose Beijing to international sanctions,” said Drew Thompson, a former U.S. Defense Department official currently at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

Beijing would be more willing to provide spare parts, consumables, ammunition, and dual-use items that don’t contravene sanctions and could fall below the threshold of international reprisals, Thompson said.

For example, Russian helicopters are likely using up their flares to counter portable short-range missiles like the Stinger. China could conceivably sell Russia some of its flares, if they are compatible with Russian systems, Thompson said. China might also share surveillance and intelligence, he said.

Given Washington’s warnings, any Chinese aid would likely involve “very basic stuff,” such as ration packs for soldiers, said Sam Roggeveen, director of the International Security Program at Australia’s Lowy Institute.

He added that Russia would find it virtually impossible to integrate Chinese armaments into its armed forces on such short notice.

WOULD CHINA DO IT?

While not impossible, both Chinese and non-Chinese experts say there are several factors working against it. For starters, it could look bad.

“China will be very careful trying its best to avoid its aid and other assistance being used on the battlefields of Ukraine,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

He added that China “has no motive to provide any assistance to Russia’s operation in Ukraine.”

Roggeveen concurred that there is no “obvious upside” for China in aiding Moscow, adding that a weakened Russia could work to China’s strategic and economic advantage.

Chinese officials have also said throughout the crisis that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries should be respected — though critics say its refusal to criticize Russia’s invasion is in fundamental contradiction to that position.

“Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has in nature become an invasion, and China will never provide arms to help a country attack another sovereign county and that is not in accordance with international law,” said Li Xin, director of the Institute of European and Asian Studies at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

China also does not want to see the conflict worsen or be dragged in as a co-belligerent, so any Chinese support “would be measured and carefully calibrated,” Thompson said.


Source : AP

Chart: Selected Companies That Suspended Operations in Russia

Source : Statista

Orwell Was Right

Matt Taibbi wrote . . . . . . . . .

This weekend I re-read 1984, a book I tend to reach for when I get Defcon-1 depressed about the state of the world. Well into the novel, Winston ponders the intricacies of doublethink:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them… To forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again… that was the ultimate subtlety.

In the last weeks, Russia took an already exacting speech environment to new extremes. A law was passed that would impose prison sentences for anyone spreading “fake news” about the Ukraine invasion; access was cut to Facebook and Twitter; stations like Echo Moskvi and TV Rain as well as BBC Russia, Radio Liberty, the New Times, Deutsche Welle, Doxa, and Latvia-based Meduza were effectively shut down; Wikipedia was threatened with a block over its invasion page; and national authorities have appeared to step in to prevent coverage of soldiers killed in the war, requiring local outlets to use terms like “special operation” instead. The latter development is connected to the state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, issuing a remarkably desperate dictum requiring news outlets to “use information and data received by them only from official Russian sources.”

Russia also appears in the middle of a general crackdown on local media, not so much because those outlets are dissenting, but because they’re more likely to provide indirect evidence of war failures or the effect of sanctions. The desperation to control news has grown to the point where Russian diplomats in foreign countries are pressuring state outlets in countries like Iran to stop using the term “war” to describe what’s going on in Ukraine.

On the flip side, a slew of actions have been taken to crack down on “fake news” and “misinformation” in the West. The big one was the European Union banning RT and Sputnik.

Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube also cut access to all Russian state media, because the EU sanctions also required that internet platforms delist any RT or Sputnik content, even from individuals. The statute reads, “As regards the posts made by individuals that reproduce the content of RT and Sputnik, those posts shall not be published, and if published, shall be deleted.”

Other governments across the West, from Australia to Canada, have taken similar actions. In the U.S., Google and YouTube disallowed Russian state media ads (following a request by Senator Mark Warner) and demonetized “a number of Russian channels,” including RT but also many non-Russian individuals, before proceeding to demonetize all individual Russian content creators, even the individuals opposing the invasion. Even DuckDuckGo, the speechier, more pro-privacy alternative to Google, announced it was de-ranking “sites associated with Russian disinformation.” A growing list of Westerners have seen accounts frozen for supposed parroting of Russian talking points or “abusive” commentary.

YouTube flagged* Oliver Stone’s documentary Ukraine on Fire, while Netflix is going so far as to shelve a production of Anna Karenina. In what might have been the craziest move of all, Meta reportedly followed up a decision to un-ban the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion with a mind-blowing decision to alter its hate speech policies to “allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion,” according to internal emails seen by Reuters.

One would hope there would be at least a few Americans left who’d hear about Russia barring the BBC and Voice of America and at least recognize the sameness of the issue involved with banning RT and Sputnik. Or, seeing how pathetic and manipulative it is for Russians to prevent reporting on war casualties, we’d recall the folly of the ban we had for nearly twenty years on photographs of military coffins, or the continuing pressure on embeds to avoid publishing images of American deaths from our own war zones. We should be able to read that Twitter and Facebook are cracking down on the “fake accounts” spreading “misinformation” that “Ukraine isn’t doing well” and notice that Russia’s measures against “fake news” and “disinformation” about its own military failures — though far more draconian and carrying much more severe penalties — are rooted in the same concept.

We don’t, however, because we long ago reached the doublethink phase predicted by Orwell, where most of the population is conscious of double standards but ignores them effortlessly. A healthy person should be able to be horrified by what’s happening in Russia and also see a warning about the degradation that ensues from using “pre-emptive” force, or from trying to control discontent by erasing expressions of it. But years of relentless propaganda have trained Americans to doublethink their way out of such insights.

Everybody knows if Russia had troops in Mexico or Canada there would be invasions tomorrow. [Biden] sends the Secretary of State, telling Russia, “You have no right to have a sphere of influence,” after the Monroe Doctrine, after the overthrowing of democratic regimes in Latin America for the last hundred-and-some years. Come on, America, do you think people are stupid? What kind of hypocrisy can anybody stand?

That doesn’t mean that Putin is not still a gangster—of course he is. But so were the folk promoting the Monroe Doctrine that had the U.S. sphere of influence for decade after decade after decade after decade, and anybody critical of you, you would demonize. Yet here are you, right at the door of Russia, and can’t see yourself in the mirror. That’s spiritual decay right there, brother, it really is.

We’ve been trained to rage against this thinking. We even have our own borrowed Newspeak word for the offense: Whataboutism. The offender supposedly does a bait-and-switch, distracting with charges of hypocrisy without refuting the actual argument. But a Soviet giving a professionally two-faced answer to questions about Gulags by saying, “And you lynch blacks” isn’t the same as the much more serious thing West is talking about. Lying to others is shameful, but lying to ourselves and not even realizing it, that’s hardcore spiritual decay. We’re being driven faster toward the cliff-edge of this moral insanity with each new act of mass forgetting.

The ideal citizen of Orwell’s Oceania bubbled with rage a mile wide and a millimeter deep and could forget in an instant passions that may have consumed him or her for years. We just did this, with a pandemic that had the country steaming with indignation until it was quietly declared over the moment Putin rolled over Ukraine’s borders. We switched from “the pandemic of the unvaccinated” to “Putin’s price hikes” in a snap. National outrage moved a few lobes over with zero fuss, and now we hate new people; instead of “anti-vax Barbie,” we’re barring Russian and Belarussian kids from the Paralympics.

It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grams a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? – 1984

A heartbeat ago politicians and pundits all over were denouncing Canadian trucker protests over reports of swastikas. “Conservative Party members can stand with people who wave swastikas,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This was despite the fact that even Snopes concluded the photographed “swastikas” weren’t expressions of neo-Nazi sentiment, but protesters comparing Justin Trudeau’s government to Nazis.

Now the swastika in the Ukrainian context has been un-banned by Facebook, you can buy Azov Battalion mugs and t-shirts on Amazon, and we have headlines like “Are there really neo-Nazis fighting for Ukraine? Well, yes — but it’s a long story.” In an effort to argue that Putin is worse than Hitler, we have people like Atlantic Council senior fellow Anders Aslund saying “Hitler had more arguments for his attack on Poland,” and former U.S. Ambassador and Stanford professor Michael McFaul saying on live TV that Hitler “didn’t kill ethnic Germans, German-speaking people.”

This isn’t to say the Russian propaganda about “deNazifying” Ukraine should be taken seriously, but it’s amazing, isn’t it, how quickly our conventional wisdom changes its stance even toward something like neo-Nazism — an absolute one day, an Amazon impulse buy the next.

Just a few days ago, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was hot for Poland to send MiG fighter jets to Ukraine. “That gets a green-light,” Blinken said. White House spokesperson Jen Psaki, when asked if Putin wouldn’t consider delivering jets to Ukraine an act of war, answered sharply, “First of all, there’s already a war going on in Ukraine.”

Then Poland called America’s bluff and said it was happy to send the planes, provided they were delivered through Germany by way of the U.S. Blinken immediately reversed course and said transporting the jets that way lacked a “substantive rationale.” We were reminded that “the transfer of combat aircraft could be mistaken for an escalatory step” and that Putin had said he would consider such a delivery an… act of war.

Moral panics erase memories. It’s their primary function. 9/11 wiped the national hard drive of everything from the third degree to My Lai to Operations Phoenix and Condor to the Church Committee to the School of the Americas to countless other shameful episodes, and the lessons learned from them. The Trump-Russia scandal blotted out Snowden, made the spooks the good guys again. 2016 rehabilitated neoconservatives, now reinvented as never-Trumpers, cleaning away the shame of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, etc.

The “misinformation” panic wiped out the WMD fiasco, restoring honor to credentialed press. The DNC leak erased “Collateral Murder.” After George Floyd we hated cops, after January 6th we loved them. Ukraine now is openly being sold as a blue-pill cure for everything that went wrong during the War on Terror, including the recent defeat in Afghanistan. “Realism” is in disgrace, and “leadership,” “regime change,” and the “universal appeal of freedom” are back, only this time their primary backers are the upper-class cosmopolitan Democrats who marched against the simplistic “freedom against evil” plot neoconservatives tried to sell them twenty years ago.

We’re at the end of a twenty-year cycle that has taken what was once the oppositional-skeptic portion of the American population and seen them rallied behind the people they once hated the most. This has been accomplished by keeping us in a rage that always escalates and is never watered down by contradictions, thanks to mastery of “reality control” via “an unending series of victories over your own memory.”

The relentless parade of panics listed above (just a small sample; we’ve had dozens just in the last few years) makes those victories easy, and every time we switch targets, from Russians to neo-Nazis to cops to transphobes to insurrectionists to the unvaccinated to truckers and back to Russians again, the Church of Forgetting picks up new converts.

When I first read 1984, it was difficult to imagine how Emmanuel Goldstein could be a villain for “advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought” or for “demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Eurasia.” Now free speech and peace advocacy are universally understood to be stalking horses for fascism. Anyone who advocates those things is a lesser or greater Goldstein, from Snowden to Jeremy Corbyn to Glenn Greenwald (just christened “right wing” by the Washington Post). Even I’ve been turned into a mini-Goldstein of sorts. Like Goldstein, every one of us is suspected of being under the protection of “foreign paymasters,” mainly for refusing to forget certain things.

The machine in which Orwell’s poor nebbishy Winston toiled worked tirelessly to create a language using terms from which “all ambiguities and shades of meaning had been purged,” paring the lexicon until a heretical thought would be “literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.”

Once Russia invaded Ukraine the cultural vocabulary was whittled to one compound thought, approximately this: Putin is the ultimate evil, we hate him, war is good, and peace undesirable, even if necessary. Social media is now packed with what Orwell called bellyfeel agreement on these points, “a blind, enthusiastic acceptance” for the escalation rhetoric coming from the likes of old neocon warriors like Anne Appelbaum and Lindsay Graham and David Frum, who’s reprising his “Axis of Evil” performance by endlessly hammering at the singular evil of Putin.

It’s all yet another expert wiping away of memories, with Liz Cheney, the daughter of Frum’s old cohort in the White House, papering over the “Freedom Fries” and “looks French” era by denouncing the “Putin wing of the GOP.”

There’s a real tragedy unfolding on the other side of the earth. I don’t want to make light of it. But another of 1984’s predictions was a future where war would become a “purely internal affair,” where even when there’s real fighting going on in a faraway land, the real target is always the domestic population, whose memories and doubts and distracting emotional attachments are the real threats and must be constantly policed. It’s all coming true, with forever war and slogans like #CloseTheSky demanding primacy in our thoughts, and we’re asked to forget as patriotic duty. It isn’t. Never give up memories, no matter how hard you’re pushed.


Source : TK News

Why Sanctions Don’t Work, and Why They Mostly Hurt Ordinary People

Ryan McMaken wrote . . . . . . . . .

The United States and its Western European allies have in recent days repeatedly increased economic sanctions against not only the Russian regime, but against millions of ordinary Russians.

It has done this by cutting much of Russian trade and Russian finance out of international markets. Moody’s and S&P Global have both downgraded Russia’s credit rating. The US has frozen Russian reserves and cut many Russian banks off from SWIFT, the international banking communications system. Europe is planning on big cuts to its purchases of natural gas from Russia. The US is mulling a stop on all purchases of Russian crude. The ruble has fallen to a record low against the dollar. Russia is at risk of defaulting on its foreign debts for the first time in more than a century. Many of the sanctions appear targeted at only certain wealthy Russians, but these moves greatly increase perceptions of geopolitical risk for anyone with Russian investments or investments connected to Russia. That means many investors and corporations will “voluntarily” cut back their activities in Russia to reduce risk and because they figure they might be targeted next. Ground-up pressure is mounting also: corporations like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are being pressured to close their operations—and thus lay off all their workers—in Russia. This means a real decline in overall investment in Russia far beyond just some Russian banks and oligarchs.

The trickle-down effect to ordinary Russians will be immense. Purchasing power, incomes, and employment will be significantly impacted, and many Russians will suffer serious setbacks to their standards of living. The Russian ruling class will be affected too, but given they live much further from subsistence levels, they’ll fare much better overall.

And yet if history is any guide, the sanctions won’t work to get the Russian military out of Ukraine or to achieve regime change in Russia.

The Political Logic of Sanctions

The idea behind sanctions has long been to make the population suffer so that “the people” will revolt against the ruling regime and force it to cease the policies that the sanction-imposing regimes find objectionable. In many cases, the stated goal is regime change. It’s essentially the same philosophy behind Allied efforts to bomb German civilians during World War II: it was assumed the bombing would ruin civilians’ morale and lead to domestic demands that Berlin surrender.

Economic sanctions are less despicable than bombers targeting civilians, of course, but they are also likely less effective. Instead of convincing the domestic population to abandon their own regime, foreign attacks on civilians—whether military or economic—often cause the domestic population to double down on their opposition to foreign powers.

Nationalism Trumps Economic Interests

When it comes to economic sanctions, there are several reasons that sanctions fail to achieve stated ends.

First of all, sanctions will fail unless there is near universal cooperation from other states. In the case of the American embargo of Cuba, for instance, few other states cooperated, which meant the Cuban state and the Cuban population could obtain resources from many sources other than the United States. US-led sanctions against Iran, on the other hand, have been more successful because a large number of key trading states have cooperated with the sanctions.

The situation with Russia sanctions are likely to be somewhere between Cuba and Iran. While several key Western states like the US and the UK have taken a hard line against Russia, many other sizable states have been reluctant to impose similar sanctions.

Germany, for example, has refused to impose sanctions in the near term, noting that Germany—as well as much of Europe—cannot meet its energy needs without first making time-consuming changes in energy policy and industrial output. Several key medium-sized states have shied away from a hard line on sanctions as well. India, for instance, has refused to void a weapons agreement with Russia. Mexico has stated it will not impose sanctions, and Brazil states it is seeking out a neutral position.

Most importantly, China has not cooperated with US-led sanction efforts, and China stands to benefit from sanctions imposed by other states. While China has not yet signaled outright support for Moscow, it nonetheless abstained in the UN vote condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is likely less than what Moscow hoped for, but Russia can likely count on China as a willing buyer of Russian oil and other resources. After all, China has been uncooperative with US-led sanctions in Iran, and has been a significant buyer of Iranian oil. China is likely to strike similar deals with Russia. Moreover, if Russia faces a restricted number of buyers for oil, this gives Beijing more leverage in obtaining Russian resources at a discount.

So long as Russia can continue to trade with sizable states like China, Mexico, Brazil, and possibly India, Russia will not face the sort of isolation the US hopes to impose.

A second reason that sanctions fail is that nationalism—a potent force among most populations—tends to impel sanctioned populations to support the regime when they are threatened.

As Robert Keohane has noted, even in noncrisis situations, nationalism can be a general source of strength for a state, since nationalism can unify populations behind the regime. Moreover, as John Mearsheimer shows in The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities: “Nationalism is an enormously powerful political ideology…. There is no question that liberalism and nationalism can coexist, but when they clash, nationalism almost always wins.”

That is, in crisis situations, we can often expect even disgruntled liberal reformers to defer to nationalistic impulses over liberal ones, further strengthening national opposition to sanctions imposed from the outside.

To see the plausibility of our claims, we need look no further than the United States, which has long been remarkably safe from any realistic threat of foreign conquest. Yet even in the United States, it doesn’t take much in terms of foreign aggression to convince the population to unite in support of the regime. Certainly, the regime has rarely enjoyed more support than in the wake of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Were some foreign power—say, China—to attempt to coerce Americans to commit to regime change through economic sanctions, it’s hard to imagine this would produce much support for the foreign power in the US.

Similarly, US sanctions have not exactly invigorated pro-American or antiregime efforts in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, or any other state where the US sought to bring about domestic political change through sanctions.

There are few cases where sanctions might have worked; however, the two go-to examples of this—i.e., Iraq and Serbia—are cases where where economic sanctions were accompanied by overwhelming military force or plausible threats of it. Needless to say, that’s a very specific type of sanction, and has little to do with a conflict involving a nuclear power like Russia.

Sanctions might also bring undesirable side effects. As Richard Haass at the Brookings Institution shows:

Trying to compel others to join a sanctions effort by threatening secondary sanctions against third parties unwilling to sanction the target can cause serious harm to a variety of U.S. foreign policy interests. This is what happened when sanctions were introduced against overseas firms who violated the terms of U.S. legislation affecting Cuba, Iran, and Libya. This threat may have had some deterrent effect on the willingness of certain individuals to enter into proscribed business activities, but at the price of increasing anti-American sentiment…. Sanctions increased the economic distress on Haiti, triggering a dangerous and expensive exodus of people from Haiti to the United States. In the former Yugoslavia, the arms embargo weakened the Bosnian (Muslim) side given the fact that Bosnia’s Serbs and Croats had larger stores of military supplies and greater access to additional supplies from outside sources. Military sanctions against Pakistan increased its reliance on a nuclear option, both because the sanctions cut off Islamabad’s access to U.S. weaponry and by weakening Pakistani confidence in American reliability.

And finally, even if sanctions “worked,” that would be insufficient to justify their use. They are, after all, a type of protectionism on steroids and that requires sanctioning American individuals and American firms that run afoul of these government regulations—many of them difficult for Americans to navigate legally.

Yet sanctions remain popular because they placate the voters who insist “we” must “do something,” and government officials are more than happy to engage in policies that grow state power and can be used to reward friends of the regime.

But having the regime “do something” is a dangerous game, and if the voters want to signal their virtuous opposition to perceived foreign enemies, the voters can always take action on their own. If Americans don’t like Russian goods and services, they’re free to boycott these goods, just as Americans boycotted British goods during the Revolution. But embracing yet more federal power in the name of teaching foreign regimes a lesson tends to harm ordinary people in many ways few can anticipate, while also potentially placing many Americans in legal jeopardy. And all of this will be done, no less, with little hope of success.


Source : Mises Institute