Western sanctions against Russia are having an impact, but have not been effective in changing policies on Ukraine and Crimea.
That's the view of David Cadierhttp://www.hs.fi/haku/?search-term=David%20Cadier, a Russia expert and visiting Senior Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, as EU leaders decide whether to extend sanctions against Vladimir Putin'shttp://www.hs.fi/haku/?search-term=Vladimir%20Putin's government, or let them lapse, in the coming months.
Speaking on HSTV's current affairs show Newsmakers, Cadier says the sanctions have affected Russia's economy, particularly when combined with a drop in oil prices and a lack of structural reform. "It's the worst economic recession in the last 20 years" he notes.
"Economically it has affected Russia [...] by preventing Russia from raising money on financial markets, by accelerating capital flight" says Cadier, who taught at the London School of Economic before moving to Finland to spend time at the influential FIIA think tank. He says that ordinary Russians have been hit hard by the sanctions, with the number of people living below the poverty line increasing in recent years.
However, the sanctions appear to have had little if any affect on Russian government policy.
"The sanctions are meant to force Russia to negotiate over the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. In other words, to change its policies towards Ukraine. There's hasn't been a change of policies so far"
Some EU countries are pressing for continued sanctions against Russia as a tool to force Putin's hand on Ukraine and Crimea, with the UK, Sweden, Poland, the Baltic states and Germany standing firm on the issue of continued measures. However, other countries like Hungary, Slovakia and Austria are likely to advocate letting the current sanctions regime come to an end.
"In the EU case, the sanctions are about demonstrating unity. Not necessarily prompting direct change, but it's more about sending a signal to Russia that the annexation of Crimea is violating the basic rules of European security, that it's not tolerated" says Cadier.
The Finnish Foreign Ministry says it won't start talking about loosening sanctions against Russia until Minsk II agreement conditions are met. That agreement sets out a package of peacemaking measures for eastern Ukraine, which include an unconditional, monitored ceasefire; withdrawal of heavy weapons; prisoner releases and political reforms in Ukraine. The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, as well as militia commanders, signed off on the deal. However, with low-level conflict ongoing, it is widely acknowledged that the Minsk II deal has flatlined.
Turning to the recent financial revelations in the leaked 'Panama papers', Cadier says the west should be careful not demonize the Russian government over secret offshore accounts, because it plays into their narrative that the west actively campaigns to undermine them.
More than 11 million leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm detailed decades of deals to set up shell companies and offshore accounts, many with the apparent intent to avoid tax liabilities.
While some prominent friends of President Putin were named in the documents, the Russian leader himself was not mentioned.
"There are suspicious that some top figures of this political system have been putting money on the side" says Cadier, but "so far, these Panama papers do not shed light on that".
Meanwhile, in terms of Russian foreign policy, one of their most bold gambits in the last year has been military intervention in Syria, on the side of President Assadhttp://www.hs.fi/haku/?search-term=Assad.
Cadier describes this as "a clash of vision" between Russia and the West.
"For Russia, the way to maintain security is to maintain regimes. The worst thing that can happen is when regimes fall, or even worse when regimes are changed from the outside, especially by the West, as it happened in Libya" he explains.
By propping up the Assad regime, Russia maintains its access to a naval base in Syria, which gives the Russian fleet its only direct access to the Mediterranean. There are also decades-old ties between the two militaries.
According to Cadier, Russia also views Syria as the strongest barrier to terrorist factions, describing the situation there as "a complex galaxy of factors", and disputing the notion there are 'good guys' and 'bad guys'.
After a period of modernising its military capabilities, Russia had demonstrated them effectively during the Syria campaign so far.
But Cadier wonders if there's an element of insecurity in Russian foreign incursions. "[Putin's] popularity is quite high, it is still quite genuine. But at the same time many people read his foreign policy as regime insecurity".
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