The Nation, sanctions, & following the money

Readers of The Nation and listeners of Democracy Now — two of the leading U.S. venues for left-wing thought — have been subjected to a somewhat incessant drumbeat of views sympathetic to the official Russian side of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. As I’ve written here before, both Stephen Cohen and, more recently, his wife (and Nation editor/publisher) Katrina Vanden Heuvel have argued that the entire conflict should be blamed on the West — the U.S., its European and NATO allies, and pro-western and ostensibly right-wing Ukrainians.

In “Putin’s Pal,Slate‘s Cathy Young summarizes the case against Cohen’s (and Vanden Heuvel’s) views, while astutely contextualizing it within Cohen’s history of scholarship and commentary on the Soviet Union and Russia. While some of Cohen’s and Vanden Heuvel’s worries cannot be brushed away — war has its casualties and some of these will be civilians, on both sides or on no side — their narrative of U.S. and Ukrainian responsibility and Russian victimhood is unfair and their assessment of western media coverage also inaccurate.

And there’s little point in casting that conflict as merely a Ukrainian civil war, as Vanden Heuvel does. Any analyst of Russian (and Ukrainian) media ought to see that it is clearly a war — something between a cold war and a hot one — between Russia and Ukraine.

While The Nation itself continues its one-sided coverage, Nation Institute fellow Lee Fang writes, in “How Putin’s American Fixers Keep America’s Sanctions Toothless,” about how US-Russian economic ties create an effective lobby against sanctions, rather like the Israel lobby does the same with US relations with that country and its neighbor, Palestine.

The lesson behind the parallel is: follow the money. Where there’s money, there’s safety — guaranteed by those who share in the flow of that money. Where there’s a gross imbalance of money — as between Israel and Palestine — there’s a gross imbalance in wealthy countries’ allegiance (actual, as opposed to rhetorical) to another country. So, all else being equal, Palestine generally gets the boot.

Both Ukraine and Russia have their oligarchs, so it’s not clear that either country should be privileged by capitalist interests, but Russia’s connections with Germany (natural gas), France (arms), Britain (financial capital), and the U.S. (trade in general) far outweigh Ukraine’s. Which is why sanctions against Russia for its violation of Ukraine’s borders have been mild and slow to come.

But the people who are hardest hit by conflicts such as these are generally the innocent bystanders and the most vulnerable.

The latter category includes the Donbass miners, who have been losing jobs and will continue to do that, no matter if their region becomes part of Russia or returns (fully) to Ukrainian control. Sean Guillory’s Warscapes article “Donbass Miners and the People’s Republics” looks at the complexity of their role within the continuing conflict.

The bottom line: This war — which is largely, but not exclusively, Putin’s war — has got to be stopped. There’s a role in that for everyone.

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