Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

Opinion

West doing too little, too late over Russia's aggression

  • Ukraine president Volodomyr Zelensky, at the EU summit in December 2021, flanked by Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: Council of the European Union)
Listen to article

At 3am on Friday, as the missiles were fired from Russian planes flying above Kyiv and the troops were advancing in their invasion of Ukraine, the European Union's leaders agreed that their governments would stop supplying the country attacking Ukraine with aircraft components.

To think that the Russian companies could until Friday count on spare parts for the armed aircrafts, or semiconductors, or oil products, from Europe, just as their country was fuelling the most dangerous security crisis since the second world war, is beyond comprehension.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Just hours before the European leaders gathered in Brussels for their emergency meeting, the US and the UK governments, too, imposed fresh sanctions on Russia.

Washington agreed asset freezes and export blocks on technology. London expanded its previous measures, targeting some of Russia's banks and individuals close to the Kremlin.

The fresh sanctions were described by Washington as "severe", by Brussels as "unprecedented" and by London as "largest ever". True, the measures are expansive in terms of their size and reach.

They will, over time, make the ability of Russia's firms to do business with Europe and the US much harder and more costly. But the central fact remains that, in the face of the threat before them, the Western leaders are doing too little, too late and without much coordination.

So far, the governments have focused on export bans and measures that pull Russian firms out of the international financial system.

These measures, as unprecedented as they may be, will do little to cripple Russia's ability to profit from the sale of energy and commodities.

On the day that Russia launched an invasion to Ukraine, the EU, UK and the US combined bought more than 3.5 million barrels of the country's oil, worth more than $350m [€311m], and gas worth another $250m. Letting Russia to continue piling cash reserves from its trade surplus in energy, the effects of sanctions will be limited.

Early US, UK intelligence

Nor did the West act soon enough. Despite the intelligence from the US and the UK about Russia's invasion plans, it is only as Kyiv is being defended that the West has chosen to act more decisively. At this stage, the goal of sanctions can no longer be to deter Russia from advancing militarily.

Rather, the punitive measures can now only serve to punish the appalling behaviour that President Putin has shown.

Yet the Russian president does not—at least in the short term—appear to care about the economic pain he will inflict on his people. He might hope that he can use the country's formidable 635 billion dollars in foreign-exchange reserves and golds—or nearly 40 percent of its GDP last year—that the Russian central bank has amassed over the last decade to prop up the rouble in currency markets.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the West's response has been the absence of coordination. It is obvious that if the sanctions are to bite, it is essential for as many actors as possible to act in tandem.

The G7 has until today done nothing by way of coordination of sanctions. Individual governments—even within the EU—have made their own judgements instead. This lack of coordination is weakening the West's response.

Consider, for example, the decision by Washington and London to block Russian banks from dollar and sterling clearing on financial markets. Their impact is being undermined by the reluctance of the European regulators to reciprocate the same ban for euro-denominated clearing.

There is a point in a conflict like this when you decide to go with all you have got—or you don't.

The West has so far chosen the latter and, in doing so, shown that it has not woken up to a new reality in which Moscow redraws Europe's security architecture and strikes the post-Cold war settlement that has allowed sovereign states to choose their own destinies to its heart.

The US and European allies have decided not to use military means to defend Ukraine against Russia. But to hesitate now in rolling out the most punitive sanctions only strengthens Moscow's hand.

The West must go further in its collective resolve. At stake is not just Ukraine's, but also Europe's future.

Author bio

Anton Spisak is a senior fellow at the Tony Blair Institute. His work focuses on international economics, trade and UK-EU relations. He writes in a personal capacity.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Russian banks, oil refineries to face EU freeze

Russian banks and oil refineries to be hobbled by new EU sanctions, as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine. US wanted to exclude Russia from SWIFT, but Germany and France favoured incremental approach.

Has the EU gone far enough on sanctions?

This is how sanctions work: to be credible, those who put these measures in place must be willing to accept negative effects on both sides. To make a difference, EU countries will have to be ready to bear the costs.

Tusk turns on former partners over Ukraine 'disgrace'

Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the EU Council until 2019 and current chair of the European People's Party broke with normal diplomatic niceties to lambast Germany, Hungary and Italy as having "disgraced themselves."

Weapons to Ukraine? It may be too late

Weapons shipments may not be much of a quick fix for Ukraine in the face of an integrated and well equipped invasion force like Russia's.

A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan

Tokayev received congratulations on his election victory from presidents Xi, Putin, Erdogan, and Lukashenko. However, the phone in the Akorda, Kazakhstan's presidential palace, did not ring with congratulatory calls from Berlin, Paris, London, or Washington.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us