Sunday, June 26, 2016
EU Extends Sanctions vs. Russia but There’s a Downside
The good news is that a week ago the European Union extended for a year sanctions against recidivist Russia for invading Ukraine and occupying Crimea, crimes that have been denounced by most democracies.
The bad news is that the world changed a week later, with Britain’s vote to abandon the European Union. And Italy, among other conciliatory countries, bollixed implementation with a demand to include in the EU conclusions a commitment to review Russian policies later this year, according to RFE/RL. Does Rome think Moscow will change its stripes in a few months, observe the Minsk accords and withdraw from Ukraine?
The EU Council had declared in a statement that it “does not recognize and continues to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and will remain committed to fully implement its non-recognition policy.” Therefore sanctions against Russia were to be prolonged.
Then, almost immediately after the announcement, old Europe – in contrast to new Europe or the x-captive nations – began to tremble in its boots and moan that life would actually be better if countries could resume normal multilateral relations with Russia. Apparently, they are choosing to disregard Moscow’s ongoing flagrant violations of UN resolutions and global law and order. Old Europe began to express optimistic anticipation of the day when sanctions would be lifted against Russia.
The sanctions, now extended until June 23, 2017, prohibit imports of products from Crimea, any investment there, cooperation in tourism services as well as exports of some goods and services to the peninsula.
The renewed sanctions include prohibitions on:
• imports of products originating in Crimea or Sevastopol into the EU;
• investment in Crimea or Sevastopol, meaning that no Europeans nor EU-based companies can buy real estate or entities in Crimea, finance Crimean companies or supply related services;
• in Crimea or Sevastopol, meaning that no Europeans nor EU-based companies can buy real estate or entities in Crimea, finance Crimean companies or supply related services;
• tourism services in Crimea or Sevastopol, in particular, European cruise ships cannot call at ports in the Crimean peninsula, except in case of emergency;
• exports of certain goods and technologies to Crimean companies or for use in Crimea in the transport, telecommunications and energy sectors and related to the prospection, exploration and production of oil, gas and mineral resources. Technical assistance, brokering, construction or engineering services related to infrastructure in these sectors must not be provided either.
The EU, or what is left of it, is due this week to extend until the end of 2016 another set of broader economic sanctions on Russia over its war with Ukraine. European diplomatic sources revealed reluctantly that the economic sanctions will likely be extended for another six months from end-July on the grounds that Russia has failed to live up to its commitments to the truce accords.
The Russo-Ukraine War of 2014-16 has pushed relations between Moscow and the West to new lows, leading some naively optimistic European countries to look for ways to repeal them by reviewing the broader policy toward Moscow in the second half of the year.
Signs of an about face on the continent are mushrooming. A high-profile visit to Russia has been scheduled by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European leaders flocked to Putin’s St. Petersburg Economic Forum last weekend.
Italy is calling for “political reflection” on the impact of the Russian sanctions — code for doubting its wisdom. Others have signaled that for now, while the continent is dealing with its other crises such as refugees, ISIS and Brexit, Russian belligerence is not on top of its to-do list.
Italy has been making the case that Russia is a worthy neighbor and its help and cooperation are needed in tackling key shared problems, such as the Islamic State terror threat. Europe’s doves should note that Russia – tsarist, communist and federal – has also been known to invade its neighbors.
One senior European official was quoted as saying that Italy, Greece and Hungary favor more frequent discussions of the Russia sanctions, which should be reviewed every six months in hopes that Moscow would demonstrate incremental fulfillment of the accords which would then bolster their insistence of relieving Russia of that burden.
Both the United Kingdom and France agreed to the extension of sanctions, but only with a so-called parliamentary reserve. That means the ambassadors must first consult their national parliaments on the issue before signing off on the extension of sanctions. EU diplomats told RFE/RL they have no doubt about the eventual extension of the sanctions, which would target Russia’s banking and energy sectors as well as individuals in Russia.
But Italy’s latest demand means a final decision on extending the sanctions against Russia is likely to be postponed until after the current gathering of EU leaders.
German officials are also throwing a monkey wrench into the process. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has criticized sanctions against Russia, saying that the all-or-nothing approach has failed to yield results in Ukraine and that Europe should consider a gradual easing of sanctions if Russia makes progress on implementing the Minsk agreements. By criticizing the sanctions, Steinmeier is undermining the policy itself and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position as a leading voice in handling the crisis.
"Sanctions are not an end in themselves. They should rather give incentives for a change in behavior," Steinmeier told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland, a network of local newspapers. So far Steinmeier and other likeminded leaders are expressing unsubstantiated hopes about Moscow’s transformation.
Indeed, Russia refuses to implement the Minsk truce but sanctions, as fruitless as they are in forcing Russia to withdraw from Ukraine must be maintained as a sign of global unity and strength in the face of Russia’s persistent lawlessness.
The suggestion of a gradual approach to sanctions will not change the situation for the better. Since it launched the war in February 2014, Moscow’s strategy in Ukraine has run opposite to its obligations in the accords as well as UN resolutions and global law and order. Russia continues to enflame the war in the eastern Ukraine in hopes of destabilizing Ukraine and forcing Kyiv to grant veto power to Russia’s proxies or, better yet, lead to a collapse of the Ukrainian government. As for Crimea, Russia is converting the Ukrainian peninsula into a military base with nuclear weapons. Russian recalcitrance and global anarchy, coupled with Europe’s weakness, and compounded by Brexit, will ultimately contribute to a historic political division of Europe that will have a ripple effect on NATO and the x-captive nations’ belief that EU and NATO can defend them against Russian imperialism.
Putin’s embrace of Juncker and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in St. Petersburg last weekend is part of this effort, as was his recent visit to Greece and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Hungary.
Earlier this month the French Senate passed a resolution urging the government to gradually reduce the economic sanctions against Russia. Ambassador of France to Ukraine Isabelle Dumont explained the meaning of this resolution and the current state of Ukraine-France relations: “If you actually look into the text carefully, the very beginning of the text recalls that France doesn’t recognize annexation of Crimea, recalls that Russia used force in the Donbas region and in Crimea, those are extremely important points. It also says that sanctions should be little by little lifted depending on the capacity of the parties to implement the Minsk agreement.”
“[The resolution] at the same time also says that the Russian countersanctions are harming EU economies [...]. And that is why there is really a need to go further on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. But again protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is extremely important for us.”
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t endorse sanctions and then soften its affect with hopeful expectations of a reformed Russia. Moscow is the perpetrator; Ukraine the victim. The EU can’t protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while lifting sanctions against the perpetrator.
Not surprisingly, Austria is also leaning toward giving Russia a break. Austria’s foreign minister said last Sunday it was time for the European Union to make an effort to identify common ground with Russia.
“I believe that we should gradually come to a modus in which for every implementation of the Minsk Protocol, for every single step, sanctions will gradually be lifted in return,” Sebastian Kurz said in a discussion at ORF TV.
Putin has been weaseling his way into the midst of myopic European leaders with a stick and carrot behavior that can tear apart the European Union faster than Brexit. Speaking last week at the forum in St. Petersburg, Putin understandably criticized the sanctions for damaging Russian-European relations but noted that Moscow is forgivingly willing to improve business ties with Europe. He urged the EU to meet his government halfway.
Putin said Russia is ready for a fresh start — if the EU plays its part which means kowtowing to Moscow. The Russian leader also repeatedly reminds the free world that he will never give back Crimea. Will Europe be consequential with its policies?
“We hold no grudge and are willing to reach out to our European partners but obviously this can’t be a one-sided game,” Putin said, emphasizing that it was the EU’s introduction of sanctions which have led to the “collapse” in relations.
Putin’s softer, teasing language no doubt has struck a receptive chord with Europe’s doves. The free world could raise the stakes against Russia but if Europe is wishy-washy on fulfillment, Moscow won’t be swayed.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko meanwhile said he welcomed the EU’s decision to extend the sanctions. “We will continue fighting until Russia frees Ukraine’s Crimea and Ukraine’s Donbas,” Poroshenko said on Facebook.
The fate of the free world depends on the end of hostilities and freedom of Crimea and Donbas, where Ukrainians are singlehandedly fighting and shedding their blood for Europe in a war with Russia.