Two news items from last week have added to the never-ending prairies of reporting on the Western sanctions against the Russian Federation, standing accused of toying with Ukraine's destiny.
First, French farmers hauled artichokes, potatoes and broccoli in Morlaix, western France, ransacking and setting ablaze the local tax and agricultural municipal buildings. The French farmers are suffering from a drop in vegetable prices made worse by a Kremlin-imposed embargo on Western produce.
The story tells us that the Russian food embargo is for real, and that while it has led to an increase of prices in Russia, whose government is scouting the world for other sources of food stuffs, the impact on EU's own economy will be considerable. An internal EU document seen by Reuters puts the cost of Russia's one-year embargo at $6.6 billion, far greater than the amount of financial aid given -- or promised -- to Ukraine. The reaction from France is telling though a bit unexpected, since Poland and the Netherlands were expected to suffer the most.
Second, the European soccer officials announced that St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, was chosen as one of the 13 host cities of the 2020 UEFA European Championship, which will be a mammoth event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the tournament whose first winners were the Soviet Union team backstopped by one of soccer's greats, Lev Yashin.
Russia, of course, is already scheduled to host the 2018 World Cup. Just like Russia's sudden embrace of "traditional values" has led to calls for boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the situation in Ukraine prompted some to call for dismissal of Russia as World Cup hosts. A Change.org petition currently stands at almost 78,000 signatures, far short of its cool-million target. U.S. senators Mark Kirk and Dan Coats are the most prominent American politicians to call on FIFA to drop Russia as host.
The decision to award Saint Petersburg the right to host matches in 2020 was the right thing to do given Russia's history at the tournament and its place in European culture and politics. The symbolic value of this choice should be highlighted as well: You can forget the calls for dropping Russia as hosts of FIFA '18 since the international community couldn't even prevent Russia from being added to the list of 2020 hosts. Dismissing a scheduled event is much harder than preventing the scheduling of an event. Russia wanted to host the Euro in 2020, and Russia encountered no problems getting it.
The sanctions on Russia aren't working, and can't work. The plight of French farmers shows how the sanctions can be self-destructive, and the news from UEFA are a signal that Russia is still a trusted partner and an ideological ally of the European Union.
On September 30, EU's permanent representatives will have to make a new decision on the sanctions on Russia. It's time to try something new to resolve the situation in Ukraine.