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The EU Still Weak on Russia

The Obama Administration has been announcing all weekend that a new round of sanctions and travel bans on prominent Russians was to be announced today unless Russia took a firmer role in taming Ukrainian separatists in the east of the country. With no evidence of Russian cooperation to be found, the sanctions are due to be announced later today.

Though the EU is expected to follow suit with its own set of limited sanctions later in the week, reading a bit deeper into most of the coverage this morning reveals that a sizable divide still remains between Washington and many European capitals about how far the sanctions should go. The FT:

In Brussels, ambassadors responsible for security affairs are due to meet on Monday and are expected to add the names of 15 Russian individuals to the lists of people facing travel bans and asset freezes. EU diplomats stress, however, that it is difficult to forge a consensus among all the member states to move to broader economic sanctions against Moscow.

Philipp Missfelder, foreign policy spokesman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, on Monday put the blame for the escalating Ukraine crisis squarely on Russia and called for new sanctions.

Mr Missfelder made clear he was talking about tougher stage two sanctions, the financial measures imposed on senior individuals, and not broader economic sanctions.

Have a look (again) at the analysis OpenEurope did of European hawkishness on Russia from two weeks ago. This is the reality that the Obama Administration faces as it tries to show teeth to Vladimir Putin’s regime:


And Russia is still playing hardball with the Europeans. Alexander Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Gazprom, was in London late last week with a brazenly extortionary message for the EU’s leaders:

Mr Medvedev said Ukraine now owes $18.5bn, a claim disputed as “economic warfare” by Kiev. In what amounted to an ultimatum, he said the country would face a total cut-off shortly after May 7 unless it pays $3.5bn in arrears. Thereafter it will have to pay cash in advance for any deliveries.

If this disrupts the flow of gas to the EU through the Ukrainian system—half of Gazprom’s exports to Europe—the entire responsibility will lie “on the shoulders of Ukraine”. If Europe wishes to secure its supplies, it might wish to dig into its pocket and settle Ukraine’s debt, he suggested.

Perhaps the Russians will miscalculate and push the Europeans too far. Maybe EU leaders will finally grasp what kind of people they’re dealing with, and come to terms with the kind of thuggish worldview that motivates much of Russia’s moneyed elite.

But we’re not holding our breath.

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  • S.C. Schwarz

    A bedrock truism of foreign policy is that your friends should trust you and your enemies fear you. Obama, of course, never understood this and now we are seeing the consequences. Russia has no fear of us, and our friends, if we have any left, won’t lift a finger to help us, knowing that we might betray them at any moment.

    Pity the poor Ukrainians and the rest of eastern Europe.

    • Corlyss

      Yep. No question Obama got it backwards with the help of his poisonous anti-American ideology. Our enemies trust us and our allies fear us.

  • Corlyss

    To paraphrase some wag,one never went broke betting on the Europeans to do nothing constructive. Head in the sand is their normal position.

  • Fat_Man

    This is why NATO must be dissolved. As far as Europe is concerned, their security is our problem. We have to make it their problem. We will be happy to help, but it must be their problem.

  • Bruce

    We’d just better stay away from sanctions on Putin’s estimated $40 – $70 billion fortune that he has stashed away, largely in Swiss banks. Who knew that the KGB paid so well?

  • gabrielsyme

    I don’t know that Medvedev’s suggestion reveals a “thuggish” world view. While some of Russia’s gas “charges” are questionable, it does remain the case that however calculated, Ukraine is seriously in arrears to Gazprom and that it is entirely legitimate that Russia be paid for its goods.

    If Europe is really concerned about security of supply, it does make sense to transfer the debt from one Ukraine owes to Russia to one it owes to the EU; while the EU would have to worry about collecting the money, at least it will have bought some degree of supply security; how much security is disputable, of course. And the EU might have assumed the role of bank to Ukraine, but how much different is that from its current strategy?

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