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Sanctions against Russia: artillery preparation for the summit

July 16, 2014, 14:01 UTC+3 By Itar-Tass correspondent Denis Dubrovin ¶ BRUSSELS
So far, nine EU countries - France, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia and this year’s EU president Italy oppose full-scale trade and economic sanctions against Russia
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© AP Photo/Yves Logghe

BRUSSELS, July 16. /ITAR-TASS, Denis Dubrovin/. Ahead of the European Union summit starting on Wednesday evening leaders of the 28 EU countries came under unprecedented pressure from Washington and Kiev to adopt anti-Russian sanctions. Figuratively speaking, over the last 48 hours European capitals suffered a focused artillery preparation in an information war.

European media reported on Tuesday the US administration met EU members’ ambassadors behind closed doors a day earlier to exert pressure on its European allies for economic sanctions against Russia amid the Ukraine crisis.

The White House did not officially confirm or deny the reports. The press officer Josh Ernest declined to comment on the meetings on Tuesday, whereas the Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki and Vice-President Joseph Biden officially stated on the same day that Washington continued working on anti-Russian sanctions coordinated with the EU.

Meanwhile, on Monday the Ukrainian authorities assembled EU ambassadors in Kiev to persuade them that Russia supplies weapon and military equipment to the militia. Some evidence was provided, report the European media, but as usual, no details are disclosed.

The Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s press office reports him to have stepped up phone calls to European leaders to convince them there is a need to adopt sanctions. Press office of the outgoing president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy ceased to regularly report Poroshenko’s phone calls as they have become a daily routine.

Against this background, the Ukrainian media are actively spreading the local police statements accusing Russia of plotting a direct intrusion and destroying military transport aircraft An-26, which was shot down by the militia, from its territory. Another trump card played to press the EU was the minister of the interior Anton Gerashchenko’s demand on July 14 that the EU prohibits entrance to its member countries for heads of Russian TV companies and the leading journalists because of incorrect coverage of the Ukrainian civil war.

Notably, NATO headquarters joined the campaign to fuel anti-Russian sentiment ahead of the summit with new reports of high concentration of Russian servicemen on the border with Ukraine.

In the meantime, EU members Britain, the Baltics and Poland are also involved in making plans how to push through possibly tougher sanctions against Russia at the summit. Sources report the countries’ ambassadors to Brussels are actively promoting this decision at the EU Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER), while the foreign ministers discuss the issue in phone calls with counterparts from other EU countries. Moreover, several bi- and multilateral meetings among the EU leaders will take place behind closed doors on Wednesday before the summit opening.


Against economic sanctions

So far, nine EU countries - France, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia and this year’s EU president Italy oppose full-scale trade and economic sanctions against Russia and are ready to veto the decision. Sources cite the three main arguments against economically related sanctions. First, they will hit the European economies no less than Russia’s. Second, they can prompt Russia to act more toughly in Ukraine. Finally, common sanctions against Russia, in particular its energy sector, threaten further weakening of the European competitiveness in the world as compared to the US The more dangerous it is now as the EU is negotiating a free trade zone with Washington.


Aggravating circumstances

A recent aggravating circumstance is the failure of video conference talks of the OSCE contact group with participation of the militia leaders. This is considered in the EU as non-implementation of one of the four pre-conditions for the crisis settlement.

This ultimatum against Russia was adopted less than three weeks ago at the previous EU summit in Brussels on June 27 after signing the economic section of the EU association agreement with Ukraine. The EU demanded that Russia created a mechanism to monitor implementation of the ceasefire in Ukraine’ east and ensure effective control over the border observed by the OSCE mission. The second demand is that the border checkpoints Izvarino, Dolzgansky and Krasny Partizan are given back to the government forces. Then, the militia should release all hostages, including the OSCE observers. Finally, Russia is expected to start comprehensive negotiations to realize Poroshenko’s peace plan.

Otherwise, the EU leaders said, they would revisit discussion of sanctions.

Of these, only one condition has been definitely fulfilled - Russia’s efforts helped release OSCE observers. The ceasefire condition lost any sense once the Ukrainian army resumed large-scale military actions. As for border control demand, the EU countries deem it unfulfilled. And, as mentioned above, Kiev is actively trying to persuade Brussels that weapons come to the militia across the border.

Hence, the failure to hold video talks ahead of the EU summit means one more condition has not been implemented. All this happens amid the obvious escalation and increasing violence, with casualties already amounting to hundreds. In this situation, the EU may be forced to take at least nominal prohibitive measures to demonstrate its active stance on the conflict in Ukraine.


Sanctions on the menu

What are the sanctions the summit might approve as no consensus on sectoral economic sanctions is in sight?

The EU will again expand the black list for Ukraine and Russia that already includes 72 people, among them Russian top officials and leaders of federalization supporters in Ukraine, who are not allowed to enter the EU and use European banks’ services until November. Yet this measure adopted as early as March has already proved fruitless, so European leaders will have to consider additional steps worked out in the European Commission and the European External Action Service in May.

According to sources in diplomatic circles, the summit will consider suspension of financing projects in Russia via residual support programs. Yet even this will be hardly perceivable as the programs up to 2020 amount to 447 million euros.

Another step could be temporary freeze of the planned projects for Russia financed through the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB), with realization of the ongoing projects to be continued. This is the measure that can have an effect as last year the banks allocated about $2.5 billion and $1.4 billion respectively. However, limiting EBRD financing would be a controversial step as the bank has 64 shareholders, including Russia that holds a 4.5% share, whereas 28 EU countries, the US and Canada notably hold a controlling stake.

The EU could also avert sanctions but decide on additional candidates for the black list by condemning some Russian companies for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In theory, this could affect air carriers that carry out flights to Crimea.

Another European Commission’s proposal is to ban providing Russia with dual-use high technologies that can be used in the military sphere.

Which of these possible measures can be realized, is up to EU leaders. The summit promises to be a platform for heated debates, where sanctions can be only adopted in consensus. We’ll see no sectoral economic bans similar to sanctions against Iran but the leaders might be forced to approve less hard measures under pressure of Washington, Kiev, their eastern European allies in the EU as well as their own commitments to support the Ukrainian incumbents.

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