Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

Can The EU Afford To Put Pressure On Russia?

by Francois Ducrotte

Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said it was in Russia’s hands to find a way out of the crisis. He added that “this is not the Ukraine and Russia conflict. This is the conflict in Europe”

On Wednesday (5 March), an 11 billion euro aid package has been offered by the EU to Ukraine to shore up the cash-strapped economy and help the government provide vital services.


Heads of State from Europe met today in Brussels to discuss possible sanctions on Russia (AP)

On Thursday (6 March), European Union leaders met for a summit in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and how to respond to Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula but they are facing the desire to avoid measures that could provoke Russia.

The autonomous region of Crimea has a 60% ethnic Russian population, 25% are Ukrainian and the rest Crimean Tatars.

Lawmakers in Ukraine’s Crimea region voted Thursday (6 March) in favor of leaving Ukraine for Russia. The Crimean Parliament also voted to hold a referendum within 10 days: Stay in Ukraine or join Russia. Last month, the parliament in Crimea installed a new pro-Moscow government.

To sanction or not to sanction?

First, the EU gave Russian President Vladimir Putin until Thursday to reverse course over Crimea or face sanctions, but the EU took a step back (or forward), deciding to focus on helping Ukraine and dropped any idea of sanctions towards Russia.

Martin Schulz (President of the European Parliament) said that anybody who attacked the “territorial integrity and serenity” of Ukraine should have to answer to the EU and its sanctions. He clearly overestimated the power of the EU and forgot that the impact of sanctions can be felt by other states as well. Russia anyway prepared its defense (Drafted law) and in case of sanctions, they could confiscate assets belonging to US and EU companies.

Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said that “Any sanctions must be looked at only if the negotiations won’t proceed,” and added that “sanctions always have a negative impact for the ones that launch them, so they must be carefully evaluated. It is likely there will be counter-sanctions.” It is indeed better to rely on dialogue to ease tensions for some reasons.

Let’s try mediation

The EU made its point to de-escalate the tensions in a peaceful way (or the weak way). In any case, can any state impose sanctions to Russia? On the side of the EU, they already failed in Georgia.

If the EU dropped the idea of sanctions towards Russia it is not because a lack of will as the EU has principles it would like to defend, but it is a lack of power. As a reminder, to adopt sanctions, the 28 countries would have to agree, which would lead the EU to waste time and adopt only weak sanctions.



It is understandable to simply focus on Ukraine, trying to keep an amicable relationship with Russia, whatever the international principles and law Russia is violating. However, the position of the EU is clear as said Jose Manuel Barroso (President of the European Commission) on twitter: “We stand by a united and inclusive Ukraine”.

Both Russia and the EU have a lot to lose if the wrong steps are taken; Putin knows the pressure he can bring to bear on Europe, and yet is also aware that Europe is Russia’s largest trading partner. He said that, “It’s not necessary to add to the difficult situation… (or) to whip things up and place political considerations on top of issues of economic cooperation.”

As ISIS Europe mentioned yesterday, Russia’s economy is in an improved but still delicate position as compared to the Georgia conflict in 2008. On both sides, mediation is preferred.

The EU still dependent on Russia

Despite a decrease in reliance on the Russian economy, the most influential European States (Germany, France, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy) still have pertinent business and trade ties with Moscow.

–       Germany imports a third of its gas from Russia

–       France is in the middle of military business trying to sell warships to Russia

–       London and Berlin have invested billions of euros in Russia (Bank, companies…)

–       Although decreased in recent years, Russia still supplies nearly a third of Europe’s oil and gas

The EU position is and can only be different than the US one. It is easy for the US to adopt a black or white strategy.

Regarding Eastern European states, they still have historical ties with Moscow and therefore have continued business relationships. In the end, none of the EU states really want to pressure Russia too much as there is more to lose than to win.

A wider reasoning could take place in the future depending on how the situation will evolve and its impact on global international relations, for example in the case of Iran and Syria where cooperation between Russia, the US and the EU took place.

But for now, mediation is the best way (the only way) to solve this conflict and ease tensions. The EU, realistically, has no other option if asset freezes and trade restrictions are unlikely to happen.


7 comments on “Can The EU Afford To Put Pressure On Russia?

  1. Thomas Hauschildt

    The question is: what’s more important, money or values? Why is there more to lose than to win? If we want to stand up for our values, we need to be prepared to take a risk. I don’t think that our economic wellbeing is more important as the future of the Ukrainian people. However, Russia knows that we place our money above our values. Not to sanction Russia plays directly into Putin’s hands.

    • ISIS Europe

      I can only agree with you but try to say this to the EU policy makers. I just tried to write something considering the EU’s realistic basis. I would like the EU to take a risk to defend values, but being realistic, they will not do it. It is just a sad reality when you look at the impotence of the EU to act on the international playground.

  2. mfcurry

    I agree with both comments, however, given that the EU bases much of its international influence on promoting values (as its most readily available option) it is left with the difficult situation of managing member-states that do not share the same attachment to these values. It is for this reason that the EU remains a largely impotent role in international politics.

  3. mfcurry

    To clarify, it is not that European nations do not share the same values, but they are often not the basis of the legitimacy of their foreign policies to the degree of the European Union bureaucrats.

  4. ISIS Europe

    Exactly, If you want to be able to put pressure somehow, all you need is unity. If the different foreign policies of each member state don’t have the same basis, the EU can’t act as One entity and then become impotent when it wants to be heard. However, those are the basis, but not only regarding values, you have a lot of economical and political disgreement. The EU is a soft power is losing a lot of time discussing on how to become a hard power, I think it is a lost cause.

    • Alexander Svitych

      Great post and great comments. This leads to a very broad discussion whether the EU can have at all a viable common foreign policy, and whether Common Security and Defense Policy really works in the 21st century.

  5. Alexander Svitych

    It is true that the EU may be impotent at international arena, and only “get deeply concerned”, “support the demands”, or “stand by unity”, etc. Ultimately, however, the destiny of Ukrainian people is in their hands (I am telling this as a Ukrainian). While Ukraine can and should get the outside support, it must primarily rely on its inner potential. Otherwise it will remain a trophy in the geopolitical game between US, EU, Russia and China.

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