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Speak Loudly and Carry a Small Twig
Will EU Sanctions Ever Bite?

Over the weekend, eastern Ukrainians in Donetsk and Luhansk voted for increased autonomy from Kiev in a referendum most of the world considered illegitimate, and one which Russia itself had tried to discourage last week. Very high percentages asked for more independence, but the turnout percentages were contested, with Kiev authorities claiming that only 24–32 percent of the population turned out while rebel leaders claimed the number was closer to 75 percent. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov blamed Moscow for orchestrating the vote.

The international response has gone just about how you would expect it. Russia released the following statement:

Moscow respects the choice of the people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and hopes that implementation of the referendum’s results will proceed in a civilized manner through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk, and without a repeat of violence.

In the interest of such a dialogue, any mediation efforts, including from the OSCE, would be welcomed.

We note the high turnout of voters despite attempts to disrupt the vote, and condemn the use of violence, including the use of arms against civilians, which led to casualties.

Meanwhile, the FT reports, Europeans were talking about adding more sanctions to the mix:

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are debating whether to impose broader economic sanctions on Russia if it undermines Ukraine’s election on May 25.

William Hague, UK foreign minister, said the elections should be a trigger point for tougher action, supporting the position of France and Germany.

He said the EU would “continue and intensify our preparations for a third tier of sanctions and other additional sanctions if the circumstances require it, particularly determined by the Russians’ attitude towards the elections on the 25th”.

A Reuters report, however, revealed the probable limits of European sanctions. The much-discussed pending sale of French helicopter carriers to Moscow will go through, according to French officials:

“The Mistrals are not part of the third level of sanctions. They will be delivered. The contract has been paid and there would be financial penalties for not delivering it.

It would be France that is penalized. It’s too easy to say France has to give up on the sale of the ships. We have done our part.”

Targeted financial sanctions are one thing, but anything broader and more concrete is likely a non-starter for many European countries. And this is way before Russia has started to play hardball with energy supplies.

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  • qet

    Was Michael Singh unavailable for comment? Why, just last week in these very pages he was reassuring us that: “First, sectoral sanctions on Russia should remain on the table even as we pursue a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. If sanctions ultimately prove necessary, pains should be taken to counter the narrative of disunity that has dogged earlier sanctions efforts. The United States and the European Union should act in concert by agreeing on a common base of sanctions that significantly increases the economic price paid by Russia. Then, just as we did in the case of Iran, the United States can build upon that base with additional unilateral steps.”

    I mean, that sounded so promising. How could it have all gone so terribly, horribly wrong in less than a week???

    • Andrew Allison

      I assume that your question is sarcastic. The United States and the European Union are incapable of acting in concert because the members of the latter are incapable of doing so in such matters.

      • qet

        Oh, it’s sarcastic all right.

  • lukelea

    Thanks for covering the Ukrainian situation. Let’s see more incisive analysis of the kind we are used to seeing on this site. I would like to know whether WRM thinks there is anything the Obama administration might do to tone down the situation? Kiev’s aggressive military reaction to what it calls “terrorists” in the East strikes my as both overblown and counterproductive (to say nothing of inept). Don’t the EU and US have any leverage with Kiev? Where are the responsible adults?

    • Andrew Allison

      The responsible adults have left the building! The Ukraine “government” is incapable of governing the country, the EU is more concerned about relations with Russia (and selling it advanced weaponry!) than the future of Ukraine, and the US Administration is missing in action.

  • Andrew Allison

    Will EU Sanctions Ever Bite? Of course not: if they were to bite, as opposed to being minor irritants, the cost would be too high. The penultimate sentence on the post says it all.

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