Should Europe impose sanctions on Russia?


There need to be tangible policy responses now that Russia has effectively crossed an international border in anger for the second time in just over five years. There’s no case for humanitarian intervention here, no lives in Crimea were under threat. International law has been flagrantly broken: Ukraine has been invaded and Crimea is lost, at least for now. Vladimir Putin is, as he said himself, defending Russia’s interests – as he sees them. But those interests are illegitimate, illegal and immoral. Most responses cannot really hurt Russia. But one can. The Russian economy is vulnerable. Putin himself is personally exposed to its fortunes and depressions. The economy is already slowing down and the country looks worse than ever as a place for investment. If money isn’t coming in to keep the right people happy – pensioners, teachers, even senior elite figures whose palms need greasing – Putin’s presidency will become very uncomfortable. James Nixey is head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House.


We may be asking the wrong question. Instead, we should ask: “can Europe impose sanctions on Russia”? What Chancellor Merkel has understood perfectly, but what many in the US and elsewhere still fail to recognise, is that Europe can only impose sanctions if all 28 member states unanimously agree. This is like herding cats and animals who don’t like cats. Among its members some, however small, are extremely unlikely to agree to sanctions given their ties to Russia (like Cyprus). So the mere effort of coordination within Europe acts both as a deterrent and a brake. Instead, three strategies should be pursued simultaneously. First, continued pressure on diplomatic ties. They won’t deter President Putin directly, but they will put pressure on key allies who are trying to maintain a balanced relationship with the US (like China). Secondly, mediation. And finally, Ukraine must be supported financially: this is key to avoiding its economic collapse and political annihilation. Dr Catherine Fieschi is a director at Counterpoint.