Strategy towards Russia: The EU is caught in the Putin trap


Dhe relations between the European Union and Russia are getting frostier because of the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Immediately before the EU deliberations on new sanctions against Moscow on Monday, the Russian judiciary confirmed Navalny’s sentence to around two and a half years in prison at the weekend.

 The  opposition politician was also fined for defaming a World War II veteran. It was only on Wednesday that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) asked Moscow to release opposition leader Alexei Navalny immediately from custody.

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Kremlin critic Nawalny

Navalny said in his closing remarks in the court case that he was a believer and lived by the maxim: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, because they will be satisfied.” Many millions of people in Russia thirsted for the truth, they would in the end win and “get full,” said Navalny in a calm tone. He smiled in his glass case in the courtroom and made the “Victory” sign.


 The  Europeans have been advising internally for days on how to react to the Navalny case. On Sunday evening, the foreign ministers of several EU countries wanted to meet in Brussels with Navalny employee Leonid Volkov and another confidante of the Kremlin critic. Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg is now expecting new EU sanctions against Moscow. ©

 The se must be “legally watertight,” he told WELT AM SONNTAG.

David McAllister (CDU), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the EU Parliament, also stated: “I expect the EU foreign ministers to vote unanimously in favor of additional sanctions.”

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United at least on screen (from left): Joe Biden, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.  In front of the conference leader Wolfgang Ischinger


 The  basis for the planned punitive measures against individuals, such as account blocking and travel restrictions to the EU, will be the first time the new sanctions regime introduced in December against human rights violations. ©

 The  EU foreign ministers will only instruct the European External Action Service (EEAS) on Monday to draw up a list of sanctions with individuals who are responsible for the conviction of Nawalny and possibly also for the attempted murder against him, which from a European point of view is safe.

But are the sanctions enough to get Moscow to “rethink and improve the situation in the country,” as a senior EU diplomat put it? ©

 The re is still heated controversy about this within the EU. Member countries like Poland or the Baltic states also want new economic penalties. In contrast, countries such as Germany, France, Austria and Cyprus are putting on the brakes.

“More than sanctions against individuals are not possible,” said one negotiator in Brussels. ©

 The  EU is caught in the Putin trap. In March, the heads of state and government want to discuss a new strategy towards Moscow. But it is completely unclear in which direction it should go. How much harshness, how much dialogue is the right balance? Especially since the Europeans also need Russia to resolve central conflicts such as in Syria and Libya.

Committee chief McAllister said: “Unfortunately, relations with Moscow have reached another low point after recent events. Dealing with Mr Navalny or the expulsion of three EU diplomats are just further arguments from many to reassess the European Union’s Russia strategy.

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Street scene in Moscow.  Official death statistics are very low in Russia

Will there be more toughness against Moscow in the future? ©

 The  two most important EU countries, Germany and France, are unlikely to be ready for this. Economic sanctions have been imposed in the past and are still in force today. ©

 The  main targets of western sanctions in recent years have been Russian state banks and the state-dominated Russian oil and gas sector – an industry that is essential for the Russian leadership.

It is often claimed that the punitive measures have had no consequences for the Russian economy or have even promoted import substitution. But the opposite is the case, said energy expert Tatiana Mitrova from the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management.

Western sanctions have hampered the Russian gas and, above all, oil industries in their development potential. Russia will maintain production volumes, but will not be able to grow without Western technologies and investments.

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Over 3,000 demonstrators were arrested across Russia last weekend.  Here is a scene from St. Petersburg


 The  first round of transatlantic sanctions after the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 was still relatively mild: with entry bans for people, account locks and trade bans for certain companies, especially those based in Crimea and Sevastopol. As a result, for example, seven years after its annexation, the Crimea is a roaming area for Russian mobile phone providers, i.e. almost a foreign country.


 The  largest Russian state banks have no branches in Crimea. Sanctions directed against individuals have meanwhile affected not only separatists in eastern Ukraine, but also high-ranking Russian officials and politicians who pushed for the annexation of Crimea.

After the MH17 was shot down, the sanctions were tightened in many areas, explains Finnish economist Iikka Korhonen. An arms embargo was imposed and the export of so-called dual-use goods, which can be used for civil and military purposes at the same time, was prohibited. Technologies for developing oil were also subject to sanctions, such as floating drilling platforms. That slowed the expansion of Russian oil production in the Arctic.

Heavy blow to Russia’s economy


 The  so-called sectoral financial sanctions, such as the restriction of Russian state banks’ access to capital markets, were also a severe blow to the Russian economy. ©

 The se banks also finance investments in the Russian oil and gas sector. ©

 The  oil companies Rosneft, Transneft and Gazpromneft are directly affected by financial sanctions.

Immediately before the decision on new sanctions, Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov warned the Europeans: “I do not want to speculate about whether our partners will initiate a new round of illegitimate unilateral restrictive measures against my country. If and if that happens, we will be prepared to answer, ”he told WELT.

In any case, Russia’s actions would be “based on fact and analysis, not guesswork and emotion.” Tschischow also said that the “potential” of relations between the EU and Russia is indeed great, but it remains largely untapped: “©

 The  decisions of our partners in the EU are illogical and surprisingly politicized. In the past few years, our partners in the EU have systematically hindered the development of the relationship under false pretenses. ”

Russia “reliable partner”

But Russia is a “reliable partner” who, in return, does not slam the door and continues to rely on cooperation and “discusses every controversial problem respectfully and openly,” said Tschischow. This is also in the interests of “the supranational institutions of the EU and its member states,” declared the diplomat. And he went on to say: “As soon as they find the strength and the political will to step down from their pedestal of imagined uniqueness and return to pragmatic cooperation on an equal footing, relations between Russia and the EU will surely flourish again.”

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Strategy Russia caught Putin trap


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