David Blackburn

Europe split over sanctions against Putin’s Russia

Europe split over sanctions against Putin's Russia
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The European Council has spoken! We must all come back on Thursday after it has considered its approach to fresh sanctions against Russia. The communiqué from today’s meeting of the Council is full of fine ambition: albeit ambition that was agreed on 18 July. We are promised an extended list of:

‘…entities and persons, including from the Russian Federation…who actively provide material and financial support to or are benefiting from the Russian decision makers from the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine, and to adopt additional measures to restrict trade with and investment in Crimea and Sebastopol, at the latest by the end of July.’

After that verbiage the communiqué says:

‘The Council recalls the previous commitments of the European Council and remains ready to introduce without delay a further package of further significant restrictive measures if full and immediate co-operation on the above mentioned demands fail to materialise.’

The demands include the arrest of those responsible for the destruction of MH17, and that Russia uses its influence to secure access to the crash site and the cessation of the flow of arms, equipment and militants from Russia to eastern Ukraine. Russia is also ‘urged’ to remove its additional troops from the border.

The ‘restrictive measures’ that are threatened do sound not very, well, threatening at the moment. See here:

‘The Council requests the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to finalise their preparatory work on possible targeted measures and to present proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defence, dual use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector.’

We can look forward to those proposals on Thursday.

Today has shown the European Union to be divided. Disagreements between Britain and France have been laid bare. David Cameron has condemned the trade in defence equipment between France and Russia. Francois Hollande has decried British hypocrisy over the flood of oligarchic money into London. Germany is remarkably quiet; the result, perhaps, of the flow of Russian gas through the pipes of the Nord Stream. Those pipes bypass Poland and the Baltic states, which are left to negotiate separately with Gazprom — a point of public conflict between Berlin and Warsaw.

Needless to say, the communiqué does not match the grand objectives described by David Cameron yesterday: ‘preparatory work on possible targeted measures’ packs all the punch of the England cricket team. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Britain emerges from this round of talks as the nation that was prepared to risk the economic recovery to secure peace in our time by teaching Vladimir Putin and his cronies a lesson. That this bold move had little chance of immediate success in Europe is neither here nor there; it’s the effort that counts.

While we wait for the Council, Commission and the EEAS to reach a conclusion on their collective preparations, it will be interesting to watch what happens in America. The US has targeted certain Russian firms and individuals by restricting their access to finance on Wall Street. This action has caused disquiet in business circles across the Pond, especially those oil and gas firms which have entered or are planning to enter joint ventures with Rosneft and other Russian entities. ExxonMobil is among this number. The Obama administration will come under pressure if the EU fails to match these sanctions — thereby giving European firms a competitive advantage. With this hanging over Obama, Ed Miliband chose the right day to visit the White House.