Europe considers the most modest set of initial sanctions against Russia

BRUSSELS – With the President Vladimir V. Putin Russia’s order troops into the secession land In eastern Ukraine already held by Moscow sympathizers and confidants, he has put the European Union in a difficult position: How harsh should the sanctions be?

The heart of the matter is Will Putin’s actions lead to a further Russian invasion? of Ukraine – or even with what President Biden once called “a mini-invasion” – and how to keep the 27 member states of the European Union together.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the bloc’s head of foreign policy, was careful with his words on Tuesday. “Russian troops have entered the Donbas,” he said, referring to the breakaway regions. “We consider Donbas to be part of Ukraine. I wouldn’t say it was a fully official invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil. “

It was the kind of careful analysis of the facts on the ground that showed Negotiate sanctions It will be a delicate process if the United States and its allies maintain a united front – exactly what Mr. Putin seems determined to test.

Mr Borrell promised to make a decision on sanctions from EU foreign ministers by the end of the day, but he also said that “this does not mean we will be making all the decisions today” on EU sanctions. punishments, only “urgent” penalties.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the same thing on Tuesday about the plan to impose “just the first step in a series of sanctions, because we believe there will be more irrational behavior by Russia to come.” happening”.

And, in an important signal to Moscow, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he would bring one stop for Nord Stream 2 . natural gas pipeline certificationconnecting Russia and Germany, ignoring Ukraine, for the unknown future.

The 11 billion dollar pipeline, wholly owned by the Russian state-owned company Gazprom and the Kremlin, has been completed. But Mr. Scholz said he would withdraw the government’s current ruling that the pipeline poses no security risk. “No pipeline certification can currently be done,” said Mr. Scholz. “And without this certification, Nord Stream 2 could not be operational. ”

Currently, it is not killed but simply kept in hibernation. The pipeline is more a question of sinking costs than immediate impact, and its failure, if any, would keep European energy prices high, because the European Union is currently depends on Russia for 40% of natural gas.

So far, by preventing the Russian military from crossing the so-called “line of communication” between separatists and Ukrainian troops, Putin appears to be trying to “navigate below the threshold of tough sanctions.” , said Ulrich Speck of the German Marshall Fund. , a consulting organization in Berlin. Putin’s tactic appears to be “forward, pause, negotiate,” Speck noted.

Nathalie Tocci, director of the Institute of International Affairs in Italy, said that if Putin sends troops beyond the communication limit, “I think that’s the whole of European sanctions.” “But if he only sticks to the occupied areas, there will probably be a long and potentially divisive discussion.”

The European Union cannot fail to come to an agreement, Ms. Tocci added, so if Putin doesn’t go further now, chances are even Poland and the Baltic states, despite their strong stance them about punishing the Kremlin forcefully and quickly. , will accept partial sanctions, as will Hungary, which is more pro-Russian but always comes with sanctions against Moscow even when complaining about them.

“The paradox of the situation is that the worse Ukraine gets, the easier it is for us to stick together,” Ms. Tocci said, referring to Europe’s efforts.

What the bloc is considering so far is a piece of sanctions, mainly related to Russia’s recognition of breakaway regions.

Diplomats with knowledge of the discussions and content of the penalty package discussed Tuesday said it would include 27 individuals and organizations, including political, military, business and finance, as well as the “propagandists” involved in the accreditation decision. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, which are still underway.

Diplomats said some, but not all, people and organizations were geographically targeted inside two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk. However, the package of sanctions being discussed also includes members of the Russian Duma, who proposed and voted for a resolution recognizing these areas. The diplomats added that the penalties would include an asset freeze across the European Union and a travel ban.

The proposed sanctions would also block Russia’s state and regional governments, including state banks, from accessing financial and capital markets, a senior EU official said. of the European Union.

ONE Joint statement by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, say that the EU’s initial sanctions will target “those involved in the illegal decision” to recognized regions, as well as banks that “financed the Russian military and other operations in Luhansk and Donetsk.” It added that the goal was to ensure that “those responsible feel clearly the economic consequences of their illegal and aggressive actions.”

“The main difficulty will be maintaining EU unity over time,” said Guntram Wolff, director of Bruegel, an economic research organization based in Brussels.

“If Russia attacks a country in the heart of Europe, we have to be prepared to respond boldly, and that means economic and financial sanctions will have an impact,” he said. far-reaching influence. “It’s not just a matter of a few months, but it has to be long-term to really increase the cost for Russia. But that means costs on our side will go up.”

And the cost of European penalties on Russian soil will not be evenly distributed, he added. “So the politics of maintaining sanctions will become more difficult over time as domestic politics and economic interests differ,” he noted. “In the face of the shock of the invasion, we are ready to be tough. But the real question is will it last more than three or six months. If it lasts two to three years, it is really crippling the Russian economy, and this will be a real problem for Putin – if it is sustained.”

Generally speaking, The European Union can suffer losses more easily than Russia, because this block has an economy 10 times larger. Only about 5% of the bloc’s exports go to Russia, Mr. Wolff said, but about half of Russia’s exports go to the European Union.

But there are a lot of taboos in the country, he added, especially around energy. “So the real issue for policymakers is to maintain sanctions in the face of domestic pressure and special interests that will oppose these sanctions because of the harm they do. economic and financial.” Europe considers the most modest set of initial sanctions against Russia

Fry Electronics Team

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