A few nights ago an international demonstration in support of Nadia Savchenko took place. She is a Ukrainian pilot who was apparently recently captured in Eastern Ukraine and whisked off to a prison in Russia where she went on a hunger strike until death or return to Ukraine. She is currently being force-fed in a Russian hospital and today is in her 51st day of her hunger strike.
This is the latest development related to the spike in violence in Eastern Ukraine over the weekend after the Ukrainian loss of Donetsk airport in the ongoing war in which, according to the U.N., over 5000 people have been killed and over a million people have been displaced in Eastern Ukraine. A recent meeting of European foreign ministers agreed to maintain sanctions against Russia while the dialogue on what more needs to be done to thwart Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine continues.
Among various alternatives that could be considered, perhaps one of the most effective would be denying Russia access to Swift banking privileges. In an article on point George Woloshyn comments:
Within the last day or two, as European foreign ministers gathered in response to the growing crisis, the possibility of cutting off Russian banks’ access to SWIFT has once again surfaced. SWIFT is the electronic bloodstream of the international bank transaction system. The SWIFT platform transmits more than 2 billion bank-to-bank messages each year; remits payment orders and facilitates the transfer of $6 trillion per day; and is used by 10,500 financial institutions in 215 countries. In August of last year, Britain and Poland called on blocking Russian access to SWIFT, and in September the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Union to do so.
At an extraordinary Ukrainian American Bar Association conference in Washington D.C. late last year, other possible sanctions were discussed. At that conference, four past U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine considered how America should respond to Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, and subsequent war in the eastern part of the country. William Green Miller, John Edward Herbst, Steven Pfifer and Roman Popadiuk each took turns analyzing what is happening in Ukraine today and made recommendations on how America could counter Russian aggression. Each recognized the war in eastern Ukraine as more than a passing skirmish between Russia and a new fledgling Ukrainian government.
It was Paul A. Goble, however, a professor at the Institute of World Politics, one of the other speakers at the conference, that made the most concrete proposal. He suggested that America should not only cancel all visas issued to Russian citizens, but also close Russia’s consulates in the US because of Russia’s crass violation of the UN Charter, the Helsinki Accords, and other multi-lateral and bi-lateral agreements tenuously binding the international order. If such closings by the U.S. led to Russian reciprocal closings of US consulates in Russia, so be it. Russian consulates in the US have always served as bases of operations for its espionage operations. U.S. consulates have had no such overriding significance.
As several conference speakers pointed out, unfortunately few political analysts appear to fully appreciate what Putin’s aims really may be. Among those identified as his possible goals were to: break up the EU, destroy NATO, build up a network of vassal satellite countries neighboring Russia, lead and bolster the power of the BRIC nations and ally with other rogue followers. In all this, Russian subornation of Ukraine is critical, both because Ukraine is the largest country in Europe and because it was the key to the creation, ongoing viability and then the demise of the USSR.
As Victor Rud, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UABA summarized at the conference, “Few understand the increasingly mortal danger posed by Russia in terms of its invasion of Ukraine, its support for rogue states like Syria and its efforts to cause havoc to America and the world order. Ignoring the Russian invasion of Ukraine will have serious unforeseen consequences, such as the downing of the Malaysian MH 17 plane crash recently, for example.”
In the face of such a Russian danger the proposals to cancel Russia’s access to SWIFT banking and to cancel visas issued to Russian citizens and to close Russian consulates make a lot of sense. At the very least they would provoke an internal debate among Russian citizens as to the appropriateness of Russian foreign policy.