Sunday

18th Nov 2018

US hardens position on Russia sanctions

  • Kerry (r) with Hammond in London on Saturday (Photo: state.gov)

The US is hardening its position on Russia sanctions and on arms deliveries to Ukraine, amid expectations the EU will follow suit.

Secretary of state John Kerry told press in London on Saturday (21 February) that Russia is guilty of “egregious violations” of the recent, EU-brokered ceasefire accord.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Kerry (l) is holding bilateral talks with Iran on Sunday and Monday (Photo: state.gov)

He listed the Russian side’s attack on Debalteseve, in east Ukraine, its resupply of paramilitary fighters in the region, and its fresh accumulation of forces near Mariupol, in south-east Ukraine, as its biggest sins.

“If this failure [to comply with the ceasefire] continues, make no mistake: There will be further consequences, including consequences that would place added strains on Russia’s already troubled economy”, Kerry said.

“There’s serious discussion taking place between us and our European allies as to what those next sanction steps ought to be and when they perhaps ought to be implemented. And I am confident that some additional steps will be taken in response to the breaches of this ceasefire”.

When asked if the US will start arms deliveries to Ukraine, he added: “We have to see what happens in the next few days with respect to the events that are taking place now on the ground”.

Kerry’s statement was endorsed by his UK counterpart, Philip Hammond.

A senior US diplomat, Daniel Fried, has also been in regular contact with EU national leaders and EU institutions in Brussels on the next steps to take.

Black Monday

The Kerry announcement comes ahead of what is likely to be a bad day for Moscow.

Low oil prices, existing EU and US sanctions, and the dim prospect of Russian economic reform prompted ratings agency Moody’s to downgrade Russian sovereign bonds to “junk” last Friday.

It follows a similar move by the S&P ratings firm last month. The two downgrades mean that some US investors, such as pension funds, will be legally obliged to divest billions of their Russian holdings when markets begin trading on Monday.

Meanwhile, the next round of economic sanctions is likely to include shortening the maturity of bonds and loans available to listed Russian banks, energy, and arms firms.

The move could have a “devastating” effect, one US source said, because several Russian companies will risk default when their dollar-denominated debt comes up for repayment or roll-over later this year.

“If we want to, we can really make them suffer … The inability to raise capital is hurting the most - there’s just no alternative to the US and EU financial markets”.

A second US contact noted: “You’re hearing a lot more calls percolating up on excluding Russia from Swift [the Belgium-based firm which handles international bank transfers]. That would strangle cashflow”.

Obama’s call

Both the Democratic and Republican parties also favour deliveries of arms, including anti-tank missiles and artillery-location systems, to Ukraine.

The final decision rests with president Barack Obama and his top security advisor, Susan Rice.

It's complicated because it would entail posting US military personnel to train Ukrainian soldiers.

“You don’t just give somebody a Carl Gustav [an anti-tank weapon] and say: ‘Here. Have some fun’,” a US military source said.

It also risks a backlash from Russia, while having a limited tactical impact.

The military contact said if Obama had done it eight months ago, it might have turned the tide of the fighting. But at this point, the Ukrainian military, even with modern weapons, has no means of reconquering Russian-occupied territories in east Ukraine.

If Obama does decide to do it, he’s likely to wait even longer - until April.

The US is currently in talks with Iran on a final nuclear non-proliferation accord, with Kerry meeting his Iranian counterpart in Geneva on Sunday and Monday.

But Russia, which is a party to the nuclear talks, due to conclude on 31 March, could threaten to sabotage the deal to gain leverage on Ukraine.

Frozen conflict

The “conventional wisdom” in Washington is that Russia will seize Mariupol in order to create a land bridge to Crimea, which it annexed last March, then “freeze” the conflict for a number of years.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has made military threats against Kiev, Riga, Tallinn, and even Warsaw. His air force has also waged a harassment campaign on the fringes of Nato airspace.

But one of the US sources noted: “I think it’s all a bluff. He has enough people around him in the defence and foreign ministries who would tell him that [a military confrontation with Nato] is just going too far”.

Another US contact added that China, which needs the oil and gas that Moscow possesses in abundance, poses a bigger strategic threat to Russia in the long term than EU or Nato expansion.

Cyprus praises Russia, lets in warships

The Cypriot president has, on a visit to Moscow, showcased his country’s economic dependence on Russia and the threat to EU and US unity on sanctions.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

Macron's 'European army': why is everyone talking about it?

Few people commented on one key point in Macron's statement: he did not justify the idea of a European army by the need to intervene in Africa, which would have been France's traditional approach. Instead, he invoked the Russian threat,

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us