Rostislav Ishchenko: Formats of Friendship – Russia vs America

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The US arbitrarily and contrary to the opinion of the world community not only left the nuclear deal with Iran, but also imposed new sanctions on it, which were declared to be much more extensive and severe than the previous ones…

Trump again keeps his word and keeps his election promises. He criticised Obama’s policy on Iran even before his 2016 election victory, and indeed promised to return to a confrontation.

The US’ sanctions are interesting because of the fact that they extend not only to Iran, but also to the whole world. Trump promised that the one who will violate them won’t do business with the US (this means that they will be thrown out of the American commodity markets, services, and finance).

The ally of Iran in the Middle Eastern settlement is Russia. But Moscow doesn’t contemplate it. The American sanctions don’t concern Russia. Russia cooperated and will continue to cooperate with Iran, but it will also trade with America. And the Americans can’t do anything about it. Of course, the volume of bilateral trade between us isn’t big, but they can’t refuse it because they buy from us only what they can’t live without and what they aren’t able to make owing to their technological backwardness (for example, rocket engines).

But the European Union is notably nervous. The European Commission already forbade European companies from reacting to American threats and implementing anti-Iranian sanctions. But this didn’t really help. “Mercedes”, “Total”, and other European companies obediently declared the end of cooperation with Iran. But nobody had doubts about this. They will suffer losses in tens and even in hundreds of millions, but these losses aren’t critical for them. And if they will be asked to leave the American market, then they won’t have anything to replace it with because they sell their products for tens of billions of dollars there.

Trump knew where to strike. The EU for too long believed in the fairy tale about the “unity of the West based on values”, and when it became clear that when the senior companion talks about “values”, they mean not only gay parades, but also traditional forceful pressure, it means that the EU had nothing to answer with.

It is Russia who in 2014-2015 surprised the world when it quietly lived through the sanctions of the West and even converted some of them to its advantage. But for this purpose Moscow conducted long, persistent, and imperceptible to foreign eyes work on ensuring the independence of its economy from external influences. Of course, nobody was building a full autarchy, but such a system was created via which what seemed to Washington like a crushing blow capable of punching through a wall, suddenly struck emptiness. And yes, in 2014 and in 2015 the system hadn’t yet been completed. It still hasn’t been brought to gloss, it’s not polished, it’s not painted, it’s not varnished, but it’s already almost finished and completely able to work, while back then its important segments – in particular the financial one – demanded serious completion, which needed considerable time. And that’s why the rigidity of the Russian position sharply grew in 2016 and continued to further grow in a geometrical progression.

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But the EU didn’t carry out this work at all. The EU, like Ukrainians, considered that “the US is with us”, so everything is alright. But when Washington, which in the imagination of the EU had to defend the common values of the West, suddenly whacked allies on the head with the bludgeon of anti-Iranian sanctions, it turned out that the European economy is defenseless in front of American arbitrariness. Taking into account the fact that the EU had a huge, comparable with Chinese, surplus in trade with the US, any trade war will appear for it to be more painful, and its nominal losses will be much higher than the losses of the US. And it is this that caused the revolt of the leading European companies against European Commission.

But business is business. The businessman (even the most sensible one) is fixated only on the financial-economic numbers of his business and only on its commercial effectiveness. The planning horizon of the most outstanding multinational corporations is manyfold closer than that of so-and-so states, and orders of magnitude closer than it is for superstates. That’s why rebel companies in this case are absolutely wrong, and the European Commission is absolutely right.

The EU has no levers of economic pressure on the US, but the EU has huge opportunities for applying political pressure, which will remain relatively short-lived. The US, at the level of the elite and the people, isn’t ready to reconcile with the thought that the EU will be lost as an ally, that NATO should be disbanded, and that Europe can change its political orientation. The government that will cause the corresponding processes will unambiguously fall. Moreover, the reciprocal economic measures of the EU will be rather painful for the US, and the people who were fired from office or lost their business don’t care if the EU will lose more.

I.e., Trump couldn’t act against the EU if he wasn’t sure that the latter will take a consolidated position and will fight up to the end. But the American President calculated correctly, as was the case with Russia – when politicians called to be patient, be consolidated, and to keep the sanctions until Moscow makes at least cosmetic concessions, while business groans about billions in losses and doesn’t want to wait for success for years and decades also, like in the case with the US.

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European business doesn’t want to bear losses for the sake of Europe, and it means that it will be difficult for the EU to take a hard line — lobbyist groups will demand from politicians to reach an agreement with Washington. The first round of the battle belongs for Trump.

But I’m not sure about the second round. European politicians were able to evaluate the fullness of the risk. They simply won’t believe that the US will behave gentlemanlike. They need to insure themselves. Moreover, they understand that by conceding, European business wins nothing. The Americans will all the same continue to drive it out of their market, because their “spare cash” ran out. Now it is not only not the 1990’s, but it’s even not the naughties, and the US is going to milk its cow alone. At the same time they aren’t against milking the European cow too. Therefore, European companies will leave Iranian and some other markets that are minor for them in order to keep the main American one, and then the US will throw them out of their market too. Europeans won’t be able to return any more to this same Iran, because the place left by them will be taken by China and Russia. It means that European business will die, and the Americans will try to monopolise the EU market.

European officials are very ambitious people. The leaders of European states are too. Moreover, long before the beginning of the current trade war, the globalisators that are too orientated towards the US started being replaced in the governments of European countries by nationalist neo-isolationists (the same as Trump). This process goes with acceleration, and now risks acquiring an explosive character. Europe considered itself as the center of the universe for too long in order to allow some Yankees to order it around in such a harsh and vulgar manner.

European politicians will try to reduce their dependence on the US in order to one day unpleasantly surprise Washington, as was done by Russia in August, 2008 and in March, 2014. If they succeed, Washington will be left without an ally, without a European market, and in front of an economically united and politically integrating Eurasia – from Lisbon to Shanghai. If they don’t succeed, the US will be obliged to spend a mass of resources on holding onto an ally that in reality isn’t as such, and which wants to flee and is ready to shoot in the back. The US loses in the long term in both the former and latter cases. They have already lost, because instead of an ally (even if it sometimes hesitated or had its own opinion concerning some issues, it is an ally nevertheless), now they will have an opponent (hidden, but a saboteur all the same) in the form of the EU.

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In this American mirror the Russian policy in the post-Soviet space is favourably reflected. All supporters of simple and tough decisions who are still moaning about why in 2008 Tbilisi wasn’t taken and Georgia wasn’t attached [territorially to Russia – ed], why the army wasn’t sent to Kiev and Novorossiya wasn’t attached either, why does Lukashenko in Belarus behave in the way that he wants and yet we don’t grab him by the scruff of his neck (for example, why don’t we block the oil and gas sent to him), why wasn’t Northern Kazakhstan – where there are a lot of Russians – taken away from Nazarbayev because of his decision to switch to Latin, etc, can look in this mirror and, should their I.Q. permit them, receive an answer to all these questions.

Even the hesitating, disloyal, mercantile ally who is interested in preserving relations with you; even benevolently intended formal neutrals; and even a moderate enemy is better than the declarative friend who needs to be kept by force. After all, the ally is valuable because of the fact that they add something to your resources. But if you punished and occupied them, then instead of granting additional resources, they start devouring yours.

Moreover, the surrounding world always watches closely how superstates relate to their allies. If this relation is based on mutual benefit and respecting the rights of the weak, then for such a State it is rather simple to attract new allies as required. They stand in a queue for this. But when everything is held onto via violent suppression, sooner or later you lose friends.

The policy of Russia adds to Russia voluntary allies that are ready to bring their contribution to the implementation of mutually advantageous plans. The policy of the US deprives the US of its last voluntary and sincere allies. Finding itself alone, Washington will simply be a big North Korea with aircraft carriers and without communists. Even the strongest who play alone versus all lose sooner or later, falling victim to overstrain.

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