Alexey Meshkov, the deputy of the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, told the III Eurasian Forum in Verona a joke that did not make anyone laugh. It was more or less like this: there are two cowboys, John and Bill, watching a herd of cows grazing. John says to Bill, “If you eat a poop, I’ll give you a dollar.” Bill agrees. They ride again and Bill says to John…
…”If you do you eat one too, I’ll give you a dollar.” John agrees. Then they ride a little more and John says to Bill, “I do not understand, why did we both ate crap for free?” I think his intention was to describe the sense of the sanctions and not to give an example of Russian humor, but I’m not convinced that he has succeeded.
When the League of Nations punished Italy for having invaded Ethiopia, the Fascist propaganda was unleashed against the “unfair sanctions.” Domestic goods suddenly became better than those imported, “sanzionisti” countries were depicted as aggressors of Italy, and on the walls of the city appeared slogans like “Sanctions? Who cares?” The immediate effect was to feed national pride, proving that Italy was stronger than the rest of the world, meanwhile diplomacy worked to limit the damage. Our country did not backtrack on campaign in Abyssinia and sanctions, under the pressure of friendly countries of fascist Italy, were repealed after only seven months.
It should be clear what I’m trying to say here: Russia has invaded and annexed the Crimea, American and European sanctions have fostered Russian pride, everybody says that they cause more damages to us than to Russia, meanwhile diplomats from partner countries negotiate to find a solution. “Sanctions are a collective suicide,” Romano Prodi said at the Forum, while Antonio Fallico – the organizer of the forum, often called “the most powerful Italian in Moscow” – said they are “a disaster for the Made in Italy”. Meshkov, after the joke, added that “sanctions have stimulated activity in Russia and major projects.” And here someone laughed.
Sanctions or counter-sanctions?
Let’s take a step back. Sanctions against Russia are very different from those of the League of Nations against Italy in the 1935. They directly affect the assets belongings to individuals close to Putin and large public companies who have their money in western countries. Igor Sechin is perhaps the first in the list here at the Forum. He is the CEO of the Russian oil giant, Rosneft. A former KGB agent, a friend and close advisor to Putin, he is one of the siloviki that (according to somebody) are be behind the battle with Khodorkovsky. Sochin is on the blacklist of people hit by individual sanctions by the United States, but not by the EU.
Moscow responded to the USA and EU with counter-sanctions, by blocking the import of a number of goods (especially food) from Europe. The latter resemble the embargo of 1935 and indiscriminately hit European companies that make business with Russia. When speakers at the Forum say that sanctions cost to Europe some € 40 billion and that they do not help Ukraine; when they say that Europe, and not America, is paying the highest price, to which sanctions they refer? When Sochin says: “Those who act against the natural laws of economic markets go up against themselves,” does he refer to sanctions or counter-sanctions?
I must say, the Eurasian Forum is place where Russian top managers, ambassadors and deputy ministers meet Italian businessmen and politicians. It is quite understandable that in a meeting between businessman and manager millionaires – and billionaires – contracts have precedence on the shifting of boundaries and wars. It is perhaps understandable that even the annexation of the Crimea and the war in Donbass are referred as “the difficult situation in Ukraine.” It is a little less understandable tell jokes about eating crap while bombs are whistling.