Officials from the U.S. and other Western powers pointed fingers at Vladimir Putin over the weekend for his continued support of the Ukrainian separatists responsible for the downing of Malaysia Air flight 17. According to the FT, Putin received calls from Germany, France, and the UK on Sunday, all threatening harsher sanctions if Putin did not immediately change course. The scope of what exactly these sanctions would entail remains undefined, and divisions between the Europeans still lurk beneath the surface:
These differences will probably come to the fore on Tuesday, when EU foreign ministers meet for the first time since the crash, armed with a recently enhanced legal mandate that allows them to target a broader range of individuals and companies. There are no preparatory meetings planned on Monday, giving the gathering an unpredictable edge.
The most likely consensus option for European leaders seems to be expanding the list of sanctionees to include Putin’s inner circle. A tailored arms embargo, which would notably not prevent France from selling its Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia, is apparently also in the running. “Level Three” sanctions, targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy, however, do not appear to be in the cards.This is a shame, because the mere prospect of that kind of clampdown has Russia’s billionaires bawling to Blooomberg:
“The economic and business elite is just in horror,” said Igor Bunin, who heads the Center for Political Technology in Moscow. Nobody will speak out because of the implicit threat of retribution, Bunin said by phone yesterday. “Any sign of rebellion and they’ll be brought to their knees.”
While Putin clearly has the lid down tight for the time being, and while it’s likely that he would ultimately prevail domestically if he had to go to war with his moneyed elites, he would probably not relish having to do so. The Europeans, should they choose to go that route, have a real opportunity to rattle Putin. Unfortunately it appears that Putin understands just how real Europe’s divisions are. For now he seems to think he can weather another half-hearted European attempt to bring him to heel.