Fri | Feb 3, 2023

Johnson Smith, Hanna spar over Russia sanctions policy

Published:Monday | March 21, 2022 | 12:08 AMDavid Salmon/Gleaner Writer
Lisa Hanna, opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs.
Lisa Hanna, opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs.

Despite at least two CARICOM nations imposing sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukriane, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith has indicated that Jamaica will continue to be guided by the United Nations Security Council on whether to...

Despite at least two CARICOM nations imposing sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukriane, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith has indicated that Jamaica will continue to be guided by the United Nations Security Council on whether to penalise the Vladimir Putin regime.

“They have not approved any sanctions in respect to the matter that is at the forefront of the world’s mind at this point in time, and accordingly, we have not taken any position in that regard,” Johnson Smith said in a Gleaner interview outside of the Kingston Parish Church on Sunday.

However, any resolution brought by the UN Security Council on sanctions is doomed to fail as Russia, as a permanent member, has veto power.

Applying sanctions could also be difficult for the Holness administration as the Russia-owned UC Rusal employs more than 600 people directly and is a major player in the bauxite industry.

The Holness administration has come under fire from Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Lisa Hanna, who has charged that Kingston has surrendered principle and resorted to a foreign-policy approach that is “tantamount to doing nothing”.

“What started to happen was this backpedalling of the principled approached that we used to take, which were sacrosanct,” Hanna told The Gleaner on Sunday.

“Jamaica has to be very clear as a small island developing state that also relies on international trade for the production of food, for oil, for fertiliser, and so we can’t just sit back and be neutral, but at the same time, we have to be very careful about forecasting how our decisions are going to affect any fallout in the progress of our country in terms of international trade.”

Hanna has called for the Government to put in place a food and energy crisis task force to forecast impending threats to the Jamaican economy. The opposition spokesperson said that while the country hoped for a diplomatic solution, Johnson Smith’s deference to the UN Security Council was imprudent.

“I think the minister also needs to come right out and lead on the matter and identify what is going to happen if we don’t take a decision … but I find her position interesting at this time,” Hanna said.

German chargé d’affaires to Jamaica, Jon Hendrik von Thiel, acknowledged the difficult position for CARICOM states that have found themselves in the cross hairs of major global powers.

While expressing his appreciation to the Jamaican Government for its “very clear, very principled” position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the German diplomat made the case for sanctions.

“We don’t want to answer with military aggression. So what do we have? What can we do? And that is economic sanctions, and this is the only thing we have below military power that does hurt the war machine. They are hurting,” he said.

Von Thiel added: “... Jamaica wants to survive. Germany wants to survive. The United States wants to survive. So if we shoot ourselves in the hand in order to stop Putin, it might also not be the most effective strategy.”

Johnson Smith disclosed that sanctions on Russian oligarchs and companies have not, so far, directly impacted UC Rusal or any other Russia-aligned businesses.

Those sentiments are in line with assertions by Russian ambassador to Jamaica, Sergey Petrovich, and Rusal spokesman Dmitriy Simakov in recent Gleaner interviews.

Previously, sanctions were imposed by the United States on UC Rusal in April 2018 although they were subsequently lifted in 2019.

Oleg Deripaska has twice been chastened for his perceived ties with Putin but offloaded much of his interests in Rusal to appease the US after sanctions were first imposed four years ago. He has again fallen victim during the latest round of Western penalties.

But in a sign of divergence within CARICOM, Antigua and The Bahamas recently joined the ever-growing list of countries to take action against Russia as a consequence of its invasion of Ukraine.

Nevertheless, Petrovich shared in an interview on Sunday that he continues to maintain “normal working communication” with Jamaican authorities in a manner similar to other members of the diplomatic community. The ambassador said that he last spoke with Johnson Smith at last week’s diplomatic corps cocktail reception and dinner at King’s House.