21 March 2014, 15:33

EU: a low-alcohol cocktail of sanctions for Russia

EU: a low-alcohol cocktail of sanctions for Russia

The European Union has added more than a dozen Russian functionaries to its Crimea sanctions list, and has cancelled preparations for another EU-Russia summit that was due in Sochi on June 3. The EU summit on March 20th and 21st produced nothing out of the ordinary in terms of punitive measures against Moscow, despite Washington's strong pressure on Europe. Brussels clearly hates to start a trade war with Russia over the failure of the US project to "cut off" Ukraine.

The Europeans couldn't, of course, just ignore the US demand that Moscow be punished, but Brussels has been so artful in mixing up the "sanctions cocktail" against Russia that it's not even suggestive of a "potent economic drink".

The EU trade turnover with Russia stands at almost 400 billion euros, or is approximately 10 times more than the Russia-US trade turnover. The EU would thus stand to lose a lot more than the US by slapping sanctions. The more so since the European Union depends on Russia in terms of oil and gas supplies, says the director of the Institute of Strategic Planning and Forecasting, Alexander Gusev, and elaborates.

"Strategically, the European Union is, to an extent, a prisoner of the US foreign policy. The US brings pressure to bear on the EU, but the Europeans put up resistance. But then, the EU just has to react some way to certain moves by the Russian Federation".

Many countries opposed trade war with Russia during the summit. "Escalating the conflict around Ukraine would have catastrophic consequences both for the parties to the conflict and Europeans", Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said in a statement. He feels that Europe's most important leaders should go toRussia to help launch dialogue with Ukraine and to ease tension in the region, without making any rush concerning sanctions. The Bulgarian Prime Minister, Plamen Oresharski, also opposed economic sanctions. He feels that adding more officials to the black list of key Russian functionaries could prevent a dialogue on settling the crisis.

Although, of course, it's not been clear so far just who Russia could negotiate with in Ukraine, which lacks either a legitimate President or a legitimate Cabinet. Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed this out when addressing top Russian officials on the Crimean issue in the Kremlin on March 18th.

He said it is clear that there is still no legitimate government in Ukraine, so there is no one to negotiate with. Many government agencies have been usurped by impostors who refuse to control anything in Ukraine, but are themselves under the control of the radicals. It is impossible to be received by some government ministers without prior approval of Maidan fighters. This is how things are in Kiev today.

According to the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, the EU countries have cancelled the Russia-EU summit that was due to have taken place on June 3rd. Well, this is nothing to feel concerned about, given that Russia has long since been dealing with Europe, both economically or diplomatically, on the basis of bilateral agreements with each of the EU 28 nations. Herman Van Rompuy or the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso should take no offence, but the Russia-EU summits have long since produced few, if any, results, and have turned into expensive photo sessions.

Earlier still, the EU said it is suspending talks on easing the visa regime. Russia has pressed for this kind of regime since 2002, when Vladimir Putin suggested considering the creation of a visa-free Europe, from Vladivostok to Lisbon. The issue has since been negotiated on a regular basis but with no practical results. Germany and France, the most influential EU member-states, believe it may take years to reach the decision.

According to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European Union will impose economic sanctions on Russia only if the Ukrainian conflict escalates. An official spokesperson for the German Chancellor said later that she meant Moscow's open military intervention in Ukraine. But this kind of intervention is hardly plausible.

As to the reunification of Crimea and Russia following the plebiscite of March 16th, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the US Secretary of State John Kerry that the move is "irreversible".

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