Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has offered a telling insight into the purpose behind the US-led sanctioning of Russia by the collective West.
While participating in a panel at the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos, Rogoff underscored the importance to the West of not only staying the course on the current anti-Russia sanctions, but also be prepared to do even more to create conditions for “regime change” inside Russia.
While acknowledging that “getting regime change is hard” through sanctions, Rogoff concluded “that is where Russia is headed.” According to Rogoff, Russia is facing “incredible poverty” because of the sanctions imposed on it by the collective West, and that the 39 countries participating in these restrictions must be prepared to apply even more pressure in the face of a likely Russian escalation in the coming weeks, as the Russian military completes its reorganization in the Special Military Operation (SMO) theater and the incorporation of the last of the 300,000 reservists mobilized last fall.
“If Russia escalates,” Rogoff said, “what are we doing? We need to be ready. They [Russia] need to know that is coming.”
“Will there be regime change?” Rogoff asked, before answering his own question: “I hope so.”
Rogoff, who in addition to teaching economics at Harvard also is a member of both the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an “independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher” whose mission is to be “a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries”.
And the Group of 30, an “independent global body comprised of economic and financial leaders from the public and private sectors and academia” whose self-proclaimed mission is to “deepen understanding of global economic and financial issues, and to explore the international repercussions of decisions taken in the public and private sectors.”
The important take away from Rogoff’s membership in both the CFR and G30 is that neither of these organizations tolerate outliers; they are, instead, the living embodiment of establishment thinking. As such, when Rogoff gives voice to the linkage between the sanctioning of Russia and regime change, this is not simply idle speculation on the part of some fringe character, but rather a peek into the foundational thinking behind the strategic decision taken by the US and its allies when embarking on a sanctions-based policy designed to ‘deter and punish’ what the collective West has deemed to be Russia’s “unprovoked act of aggression” in sending troops to Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
There’s just one problem with Rogoff’s underlying analysis regarding Russia’s economic health—it is wrong. Not by a little, but a lot. Speaking at a meeting with top Russian economic officials earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that despite the difficulties created by Western sanctions, “the actual dynamics turned out to be better than many expert forecasts” which, Putin added, had “predicted a decline of 10% and 15% or even 20%.”
One must wonder where the esteemed Harvard professor fell regarding these assessments.
One of the primary reasons behind Russia’s resilience in the face of the collective West’s full-court press on sanctions is that Russia's budget revenues from the oil and gas industry grew 28% in 2022, amounting to an increase of $36.5 billion over the previous year.
This growth played an important role in securing the budget of the Russian Federation in the face of widespread economic disruption in other economic sectors caused by sanctions. The forecast for 2023 is for similar rates of growth, which bode ill for any new round of ‘regime-change-inducing sanctions’ being planned by Rogoff and his ilk.
Professor Rogoff himself seems to be basing his analysis on a new understanding of geopolitical realities that have emerged since he last publicly opined on the issue, in December 2022. Then, Rogoff, who is not a military expert, declared that “The Russians have lost the war on the battlefield, and the only thing keeping Putin in power is very tight control of information that restricts even educated citizens from fully understanding the extent of the crushing defeat Russia has suffered.”
What a difference a month makes. Now, according to Rogoff, Russia is about to escalate the conflict by “launching a new offensive against Ukraine.”
Likewise, in December Rogoff decried the failure of sanctions against Russia, noting that “The sanctions can work if China and India join in,” and adding that “they are very ineffective otherwise.”
Now, even though both China and India are expanding the amount of oil and gas purchased from Russia, Rogoff believes Russia is on the verge of economic collapse, and that regime change will follow.
Fortunately for Russia, Rogoff’s skill as both a military and economic analyst when it comes to all things Russian is demonstrably poor. More worrying, however, is the peek inside the decision-making processes that take place within the inner sanctum of Western policy formulation which his comments provide.
If the West, as Rogoff suggests, is seriously banking on sanctions to serve as a precursor for regime change in Russia, then this speaks poorly for both the intent of the West in seeking a peaceful outcome to this conflict, and the ability of the West to grasp reality in terms of mitigating the harm done by pursuing failed policy to the bitter end.
Russia appears to be on the cusp of not only a decisive military victory against Ukraine, but also completing the economic version of a wrestling reversal, turning Western sanctions into an economic suicide pact on the part of those who have embarked on that course, while avoiding any major harm to the Russian economy.
One is left wondering just what tune Rogoff thought he was whistling on the stage at Davos. To the educated ear, it sounds eerily like “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the last tune played by the band of the HMS Titanic before the ship sank beneath the icy waters of the north Atlantic.
Credits : Scott Ritter
- A former US Marine Corps intelligence officer. He served in the USSR as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, on General Schwarzkopf's staff during the Gulf War, and as a chief weapons inspector with the UN in Iraq. He currently writes on issues pertaining to international security, military affairs, Russia, and the Middle East, as well as arms control and nonproliferation
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