Crisis has struck in Crimea and spiraled across the Western world, but how far will Russia go?by Jonathan Eyal / March 4, 2014 / Leave a comment
“Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region will neither be accepted, nor go unpunished”
© PA Images
European Union heads of states and governments are gathering on Thursday for an unprecedented summit to deal with the crisis in Ukraine. In public, Europe and the US are united in demanding that Russia should halt its military intervention, and in warning that Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region will neither be accepted, nor go unpunished.
But with all military options ruled out, the frustration in Europe is palpable: the diplomatic and economic sanctions currently being contemplated by the EU and the US against Russia will have little impact on the Kremlin’s immediate behaviour, while the measures which can really hurt Moscow remain firmly off the table, as Western governments scramble to protect their national economic interests from the sudden chill in relations with Russia.
As the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday indicated, Europe’s diplomatic disarray may be deepening. For the moment, the EU has not even reached a consensus on how quickly any sanctions should be imposed on Russia, or agreed what these sanctions might be. Recalling their past history of military bullying, former communist countries are demanding that Russia should be punished immediately, especially Hungary, which suffered a Soviet-led invasion in 1956 and the Czech Republic which experienced a similar invasion in 1968.
But other European governments remain circumspect. “We must replace confrontation with dialogue”, said the Spanish foreign minister José Manuel Garcia, a statement for which he provided no explanation. Frans Timmermans, his Dutch counterpart said: “We have left the Cold War behind and there is no reason to revive it,” another statement devoid of substance.
Sanctions, described as “targeted”, will be imposed on Russia by the US and EU as early as the end of this week. These will include travel bans on Russian politicians, a freeze on the bank accounts of Russia’s billionaire oligarchs and the potential exclusion of Russia from the G8. But imposing even these limited sanctions will not be easy, and their impact is largely symbolic.
A “black list” of Russian officials not allowed into the US already exists and was mandated by Congress in legislation that the Obama administration initially opposed. This list will now be expanded and copied by the Europeans. But making it extensive enough to really hurt…