When Did It Stop Mattering That Ukraine Doesn't Want to Be Part of Russia?

Meanwhile, President Biden's first round of sanctions will attempt to make the oligarchs scream.
IMAGE SEAN GALLUP / GETTY IMAGES

They call it the Holodomor, the largely Soviet-engineered famine that killed somewhere around four million people in Ukraine in the early 1930s. For background, the website of the University of Minnesota quotes Professor Andrea Graziosi of the University of Naples:

"In the case of the Holodomor, this was the first genocide that was methodically planned out and perpetrated by depriving the very people who were producers of food of their nourishment (for survival). What is especially horrific is that the withholding of food was used as a weapon of genocide and that it was done in a region of the world known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’.”

I mention this because the current Russian insistence that Ukraine is traditionally part of Russia is a contemptuous insult to the four million people that the Soviet Russian government killed. Obviously, being traditionally part of Russia didn’t work out so very well. Oddly, we’ve seen this same argument coming from some on the left, too. It is more than clear that Ukraine doesn’t want to be part of Russia. How national self-determination stopped being a liberal value is certainly worthy of further study when and if we step back from the brink of all-out war in West Asia.

The administration got an assist Tuesday morning when Germany shut down the approvals of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Later in the day, the president announced a new regime of sanctions, these aimed at Russian banks and Russian oligarchs. From NBC News:

The sanctions will target the Russian bank VEB and Russia’s sovereign debt, cutting the country off from Western financing. Biden said the sanctions will also target Russian elites and their family members in an effort to make sure people close to Putin "share the pain.”

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Also, from CNBC:

The sanctions will prohibit American financial institutions from processing transactions for VEB and its military bank. This would effectively cut the banks out of transactions involving U.S. dollars, the global reserve currency…Biden also announced that the United States would implement comprehensive sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt. “That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western financing,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade its new debt on our markets, or European markets either.”

In addition to the sanctions on VEB and Russian debt, Biden said in the days ahead he would sanction individual Russians in Putin’s inner circle.

Russian elites and their family members, he said, “share the corrupt gains of the Kremlin’s policies, and so they ought to share in the pain as well.”

To me, this is the kind of response that works on a number of levels. The most important one is that it recognizes that, under Putin, Russia is a goddamn economic basket case. It has been looted for decades by Putin and a kleptocratic class over which he presides. Making the oligarchs scream can be a massively destabilizing move, and the oligarchs are how Putin and his government survive. Provided that the administration can hold alliances and get other countries to follow this plan, it perhaps can alienate the Russian people from their regime, and from the fat and wealthy apparatchiks behind it. It may not stop Putin’s next move, but it may stop the next one after that.

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About The Author
Charles P. Pierce
Charles P. Pierce, lead for Esquire Politics US, has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently 'Idiot America.' He lives near Boston with his wife but no longer his three children.
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