More unity in the EU regarding sanctions against Russia?

As we have seen in the last months the EU was pretty divided regarding Russia, would you say that more united EU may appear slowly, or maybe not so much? Read few comments.

Aurel BraunProfessor of International Relations and Political Science, University of Toronto, Visiting Professor, Department of Government, Harvard University

First, democracies are difficult to co-ordinate even if they are part of an integrative unit like the EU. While they have made supra-national concessions to the EU that are significant, the member states are also keen on retaining significant elements of their sovereignty. In addition, the diversity of interests and the differing levels of dependence of Russian energy supplies makes cohesion in the EU extra difficult. This, in turn, will impact on the introduction and effective application of sanctions by the EU.

Second, in light of the intrinsic difficulties of creating a unified policy outlined above, the EU lacks genuine leadership. Normally, when it came to major foreign policy initiatives, particularly ones that required both strength and sacrifice, such leadership came from the outside – specifically from the U.S. Under the Obama administration, though, United States has chosen to “walk small” and prefers “leading from behind” which in many respects is a negation of leadership. Despite German’s strong economy and Britain’s determination to confront Russia over its aggression in Ukraine, neither country can provide the kind of leadership and reassurance for the EU that United States has historically provided.

Third, many leaders do not sufficiently appreciate that sanctions are coercive measures. That is, they are “hard power” rather than “soft power”. They involve, as in the case of all hard power, considerable sacrifice on the part of those who apply sanctions. Consequently, the application of effective sanctions means that there has to be a powerful political will to do so and a sense of legitimacy in protecting national interests and international well-being.

Forth, such political will can only come as a result of understanding the difference between short-term and long-term interests. While applying sanctions involves sacrifices and short term losses, especially in the case of EU members who are heavily dependent on Russia for energy and conduct significant trade, the long-term interests need to look at seminal issues such as the risk of allowing or emboldening Russia to act as a rogue state and and also evaluate the profound damage that Russian aggression in Ukraine caused (and continues to cause) to international law, to the pivotal international organization, the United Nations, and to the prospect of nuclear proliferation that derives from the fact that Ukraine has been invaded and had part of its territory annexed after it had given up its nuclear weapons with the understanding that its territorial integrity would be guaranteed by major states such as the U.S., Britain, as well as Russia.

Consequently, the EU is moving rather slowly towards stronger sanctions, but it is doing so, it seems, in a more united fashion. The trend lines, therefore, in terms of unified action seem positive but not irreversible. In the next few weeks we should get a much clearer picture regarding the evolving cohesiveness of the EU, at least on the pivotal issue of sanctions.

Juliane Fürst, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Bristol

Until now the EU was divided along predictable lines – those closest and in the former orbit of Russia were the most vociferous about sanctions and even intervention, those with the highest export to Russia the most cautious. The plane crash has changed this picture. It is true that the agreement for severe sanctions is now much higher and Europe seems to be speaking more with one voice. But the underlying differences still exist. Most surprising has been the muted response from the Netherlands (that might be partly a cultural issue) and the reluctance by France to abandon a military contract. The most significant turn around I would say has happened for Merkel. It is well known that she has not been in agreement with Putin’s politics for a while. But she is also the head of Europe’s biggest exporter to Russia. There seems to be more of a determination to get stage 3 sanctions going for real and also to take the lead in the European response. Britain has voiced much rhetoric, but its connection with Russia is more via the large London oligarch community and their personal wealth. One wonders how committed Britain would be, if it were told to freeze the assets of its resident Russian rich.

Sergey Utkin, Head of Department of Strategic Assessment, Centre for Situation Analysis, Russian Academy of Sciences

If the escalation continues in Ukraine, the EU will tend to become more united but this won’t be easy. An unwillingness to damage its own interests unites the EU more than the willingness to exert pressure on Russia. And whatever the escalation in Ukraine, trade flows won’t change fast. 50% of Russia’s trade turnover come from relations with the EU and Russia is the EU’s third largest trade partner with some exclusive offers in valuable resources. This may only change in a middle-term perspective, years from now. In the meantime Russia will certainly try to make to the most Eurosceptic member-states and political forces in the EU some interesting offers that would again prevent the EU from speaking with one voice on issues that matter to Russia.

Sean RobertsSenior Research Fellow, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

The EU’s latest sanctions were pretty much inevitable in view of developments over the past few week. But, Europe is still as divided as ever on the subject of sanctions, and little, if anything has changed. The key to all of this is Germany. If Germany decides that Russia has crossed its ‘red line’, then serious sanctions will follow, despite the mutual damage sanctions will cause. The problem is that no one knows what this red line is, what Russia would have to do in order to push the Germans into action. Elsewhere, the US has little trade interest with Russia and is keen to push for harder sanctions and Poland and the Baltics seem ideologically driven and outright hostile to Moscow. But, the rest of Europe will wait for Germany to lead the way. The UK, France and the Nordic states won’t push serious sanctions unilaterally, and the rest of Europe has enough domestic economic problems to do without a new ‘Cold War’. At this juncture, it does seem that the EU made a big mistake in pushing Ukraine to choose between Europe and Russia. The mistake was in miscalculating Russia’s reaction to this geopolitical challenge, and then failing to develop a unified European response. In the meantime, EU citizens are scratching their heads and wondering if Ukraine’s ‘European path’ will actually help alleviate the serious economic woes in either Ukraine or the EU, especially if relations between Russia and Ukraine and Russia and the EU deteriorate further.

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