27th Oct 2016

EU considers mini-sanctions on Russia

  • Anti-Putin poster in central Kiev (Photo: Marco Fieber)

The EU is considering whether to add some low-level names to the Russia blacklist, as France and Germany lead efforts on Ukraine peace talks.

Member states’ ambassadors in Brussels on Monday (7 July) tasked the EU foreign service with drawing up names of potential individuals.

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Diplomatic sources say they will mostly be east Ukrainian separatists and “possibly” a handful of Russian citizens deemed to be supporting them. One contact noted they are likely to be people that even Russia specialists “have never heard of”.

Ambassadors will discuss the list on Wednesday.

EU leaders last month spelled out four conditions for Russia to meet “by 30 June” or face “further steps”.

The conditions, which called for action on the ground, including the rebels' freeing “all” hostages and handing back border checkpoints, have not been met. But there is no guarantee the new sanctions will come.

Recalling Monday’s meeting, one EU diplomat said: “The Brits, the Swedes, the Poles, and the Baltic states wanted a strong approach. But the other member states, led by France and Germany, want to make sure Russia is kept on board in diplomatic efforts”.

A second diplomat said the Franco-German camp “argued that progress on the crisis could be measured not just by actions on the ground, but also in terms of the diplomatic process”.

A third EU diplomat said: “I wouldn’t rule out further sanctions this week, or early next week. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

The ongoing sanctions debate comes amid two new developments.

Ukrainian forces this week captured the rebel stronghold of Sloviansk, prompting rebels to regroup in Donetsk.

Meanwhile, France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, a European multilateral club, revived a “Contact Group” on the conflict.

France and Germany say Ukraine has every right to defend its territory.

But they, and other EU states, are wary that Ukraine might attack Donetsk, a city of 1 million people, causing heavy civilian casualties and inflaming the crisis.

“Despite the change in the situation in eastern Ukraine in favour of the Ukrainian security forces, there will be no purely military solution to the conflict”, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Monday.

Germany wants the Contact Group to see Ukrainian authorities sit down with local leaders from east Ukraine.

But the problem is who to talk to.

If they meet local leaders who do not represent the pro-Russia rebels, then any deal they make might not lead to peace. But if they meet rebel leaders who do not represent the genuine interests of local people, the talks will be equally void.

“Germany is hoping the OSCE will be able to define some acceptable interlocutors,” one of the EU diplomats told EUobserver.

For his part, Russian leader Vladimir Putin also has plenty at stake.

Putin says he has no control over the mixed bag of mercenaries, Russian nationalist adventurers, and local Ukrainian fighters who form the core of the insuregncy.

The EU says he does. But some EU diplomats believe he is losing control.

“Nationalist extremists in Russia are starting to feel very unhappy that Putin is doing so little to help [the Ukraine rebels]”, a fourth EU diplomat said.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russia specialist at the Rusi think tank in London, told EUobserver that some Russian nationalist extremists in Ukraine and Russia have made threats against Moscow unless it does more.

“They expected more military support and they are not getting it. There is a stratum in Russian society saying Putin is a traitor”, Sutyagin said.

“He [Putin] has opened Pandora’s Box”.

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