By Andrew Gardner
April 16, 2014
US further advanced than divided EU on next stage of sanctions against Russia.
The European Union is struggling to stay in step with the United States as together they attempt to face down Russia over its interference in eastern Ukraine.
While the US is looking to ratchet up sanctions on Russia, the EU is failing to keep pace.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Ukrainian, Russian and US foreign ministers in Geneva tomorrow (17 April), but that meeting could be unsettled by developments in eastern Ukraine.
The government of Ukraine yesterday sent troops into the east of the country in its first significant show of strength since heavily armed pro-Russian groups seized a string of towns in the largely Russian-speaking region.
“You can’t send in tanks and at the same time hold talks,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said yesterday.
US President Barack Obama had already indicated that he had low expectations for the Geneva meeting. According to the White House, Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that “while he continues to believe that a diplomatic solution is still possible, it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine’s borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials”.
For the EU’s member states, however, the Geneva talks have served as the focus of recent debate. One diplomat said that that some states, including Germany, appeared to view the Geneva meeting as a goal in itself.
A gap has already opened up in the level of Western criticism of Russia. While the US and NATO have directly and repeatedly accused Russia of being behind the current unrest, a meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers on Monday limited itself to calling on Russia “to repudiate the latest lawless acts in eastern Ukraine”.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday that the US was ready to impose sanctions on Russia’s banking, mining and energy sectors. Reports from Washington yesterday suggested that the US was also considering imposing sanctions on Igor Sechin, widely considered to be the most powerful man in Russia after Putin himself, but was uncertain about the timing.
Sanctions are significantly more difficult for the EU to impose than for the US, both politically and economically, a point recognised by the US. Nonetheless, two sources told European Voice that the US had been pressing the EU hard ahead of the foreign affairs council to take a firmer position on sanctions.
The foreign ministers eventually asked the EU’s institutions to prepare a list of additional Russians who could face travel bans and asset freezes. They did not discuss economic sanctions. At a meeting of member states’ ambassadors to the EU last week (9 April), some member states argued that it was still too early to move to economic measures.
An official yesterday said that it may be another week before an assessment of the impact of potential sanctions is ready. That would put EU leaders in a better position to discuss sanctions at an emergency summit that the French and British foreign ministers said may be necessary next week if the situation in Ukraine worsens over Easter.
Harold James of Princeton University, in an article published in European Voice, has warned of the potential dangers of financial sanctions. A calculation by an academic at Columbia University, James S. Henry, this week argued that “Russian capital, public and private, is in effect financing at least 6% to 11% of all European bank lending”.
The EU’s dependence on Russian energy would also be a major consideration. On Monday (14 April) Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, held a video conference with energy ministers and officials from the member states, which was devoted to finding a common response to a letter sent by Putin to 18 states on Thursday. In the letter, Putin warned that Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy giant, would “completely or partially cease gas deliveries” to Ukraine unless Ukraine paid for gas in advance, a move that could affect the flow of gas to EU member states.
The letter was widely seen as an attempt to divide the EU. Gazprom, which yesterday (15 April) issued a statement declaring that it “is a reliable supplier of gas to the European market and will remain one going forward”, used a meeting with Commission officials last week (8 April) to lobby for an exemption from EU rules for its still incomplete South Stream pipeline through the eastern Balkans to Hungary and Slovenia.
Source: European Voice