Russia threatens to go beyond EU food ban in sanctions war
By Benjamin Fox
The Russian government may expand its economic sanctions against the west, as its diplomatic stand-off over the Ukraine crisis intensifies.
At a meeting of Vladimir Putin’s ministers on Thursday (7 August), prime minister Dimitry Medvedev stated that the government was considering a ban on flights from Europe and the US travelling through its airspace.
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A ban would force carriers to use more fuel to reach destinations using longer flight paths to avoid Russian territory and would hit major European airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France.
Moscow is also considering whether to expand its sanctions to the aviation, shipbuilding and automobile sectors.
Earlier, the Russian government drew up a list of agricultural products and raw materials from the EU, as well as the US, Canada, Norway and Australia, that will be banned for one year - a tit-for-tat response to broad economic sanctions recently imposed on Russia by the European Union.
Figures from the EU’s statistical agency Eurostat suggest that the move will cost Europe, which provides over 40 percent of Russia’s food imports, more than €12 billion in lost exports.
Under the bloc’s common agricultural policy, the European Commission has a €420m cash reserve that could be used to compensate farmers and has indicated that it stands ready to offer further support to its farming sector if needed.
"Until the last moment, we hoped that our foreign colleagues would realise that sanctions lead to a blind alley, and that no one benefits from them. But they didn't realise this, and now we have been forced to respond," said Medvedev.
For its part, the EU’s so-called ‘stage three’ sanctions ban financial instruments by Russian-state-owned banks, enacted a non-retroactive arms embargo, and impose export limitations on dual-use technologies.
The move was made last week in response to Moscow's support for eastern separatists in Ukraine, which western leaders hold responsible for shooting down Malaysian airlines flight MH17 last month, killing all its passengers.
Meanwhile, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen during a visit to Ukraine on Thursday urged Russia to "step back from the brink" of war by pulling its troops back from the Ukrainian border.
Rasmussen, which has warned that Russia has massed around 20,000 troops close to the border ahead of a possible direct intervention, called on Moscow to “not use peacekeeping as an excuse for warmaking”.