Should the EU postpone new Russian sanctions due to ceasefire?

Slovak PM Robert Fico said that the new round of the EU sanctions against Russia  should be postponed due to ceasefire. Would you say it would be a right step in the situation we have or not, and why? Read few comments.

Ievgen VorobiovAnalyst, Polish Institute of International Affairs

As I see it, postponing sanctions due to the ceasefire would be the worst step one can think of in the current situation. The new round of sanctions was announced in response to Russia’s (documented and undisputed) introduction of regular troops into Ukraine, something which was long muted by EU diplomats and analysts  as the “red line” (if there was any at all). If the EU does not “punish” Russia for the invasion to the Donbas now, all the following responses will depend on the status of the ceasefire deal, rather than Russia’s actual behavior. That would be a small victory for Kremlin, as it will replace the normal “tit-for-tat” logic of sanctions with “lets-wait-it-over” approach that Moscow tries to push on the EU. As the ceasefire dynamics (stopping it or resuming) will be most likely driven by pro-Russian (or simply Russian) forces, the Kremlin will be able to “choose” the moment of escalation depending on the internal EU situation or the external development (say, another disaster in the Middle East).

Secondly, you can think of a purely legal objection. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Russia keeps insisting it is not a party to the war and not party to the ceasefire. By the Kremlin’s logic, Russia has nothing to do with the ceasefire, apart from putting the signature of its Ambassador Zurabov as part of the Minsk Contact group on that 12-point plan. So the logical question would be: why bind the sanctions regime for Russia’s behavior with something over which she claims having little influence. To avoid this “trap” laid by the Kremlin, the West just needs to decouple response to actual developments on the ground (sanctions) from the diplomatic show put up by the Kremlin (talks in Minsk, public appeals to the militants in the so-called “Novorossiya” etc). Otherwise, EU will be helping Russia to create pressure on the Kyiv government (as some of its members have been doing thus far, however).

Last but not least, there is no mechanism to control how the ceasefire is respected, as the reaction to the attack on Mariupol is likely to demonstrate in the next couple of days. If one has no clear understanding of where the ceasefire ended and continued, you will find it impossible to “tailor” your response with sanctions accordingly.  As it the case with any sanctions regime, the devil is in the detail – the Kremlin will add one more, in which the Brussels bureaucracy may drown.

Tomas JaneliūnasAssociate Professor at Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University

I think the ceasefire is no reason to postpone decision of the EU. First of all there are reports that an artillery fire was fired from the separatists territory. So, there is no guaranty that ceasefire will be sustainable. Secondly, and most importantly, both sides know that ceasefire is far from permanent – it is needed for both sides to regroup, to take a pause and move on further. The most crucial moment here is to assure that no further Russian reinforcement would be sent to separatists. If Russia will use this ceasefire only for reinforcement of separatists, there should be a very clear response from the EU as well.

And last thing – do you know about the abducted Estonian officer this Friday? It is a major provocation from Russia’s side and EU also should be aware of such things.

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

It is a very justifiable question, since the timing of the sanctions seems a bit odd. This is the result of the slow machinery that is the European Union. The renewed sharpening of the sanctions was a response to the increased presence of Russian soldiers and weaponry on Ukrainian territory. The ceasefire was agreed almost coincidentally just before the Union leaders got together – and might very well be connected to this very fact and the NATO meeting in Wales.

In my opinion, the sanctions are still justified for two reasons. First the very reason for their existence – the presence of Russian army on Ukrainian territory – has not been changed and is indeed still denied by Russia officially despite numerous evidence to the contrary. Second the ceasefire is happening very much on Vladimir Putin’s terms. It is good that the European leaders persuaded Poroshenko to impose the ceasefire, but it is also good to remind Putin that Europe considers Russia the culprit of why a cease fire on such abysmal terms for Ukraine was needed in the first instance. Ultimately the cease fire has got Ukraine into exactly that kind of limbo as a state, in which Russia wanted it to be. And Russia has not withdrawn either soldiers or the nasty propaganda that has fuelled the conflict.

Stephen BittnerProfessor of History, Sonoma State University

Vladimir Putin has been adept at playing schisms in the West against the West. Every time a new round of punitive sanctions is set to take effect, Putin makes a gesture toward conciliation and peace, and consensus in NATO and the EU about how best to proceed and how to punish Russia crumbles. And then Putin quietly resumes the same policies and actions that caused the sanctions in the first place. Is it any surprise that as soon as European nations began to speak about delaying a further round of sanctions, the ceasefire crumbled in Donetsk and Mariupol?

It is perhaps best to judge Vladimir Putin by what is know. Russia has annexed part of Ukrainian territory, thus violating one of the cornerstones of post-WWII European stability–the sanctity of territorial sovereignty. Did not Hungarian fascists do the same to Slovakia in 1939? There is overwhelming evidence that Russia has supplied arms, personnel and training to separatists in the east of Ukraine. There is overwhelming evidence that the Russian army is now fighting in eastern Ukraine. There is overwhelming evidence that Russian-backed separatists are responsible for the murder of scores of innocent civilians on the Malaysian Air flight.

In light of all of this, how can there be dispute about Russian motives? Is it really possible any longer to think that Vladimir Putin can be convinced to restore the status quo ante?

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