News / Europe

    EU's Russia Sanctions Seen as Limited for Now, Despite Tough Talk

    The logo of Russia's top crude producer Rosneft is seen on a price information board of a gasoline station in Moscow July 17, 2014.
    The logo of Russia's top crude producer Rosneft is seen on a price information board of a gasoline station in Moscow July 17, 2014.
    Reuters

    For all the tough talk, Europe is not likely to punish Russia over last week's downing of an airliner over Ukraine beyond speeding up the imposition of already agreed individual sanctions when the bloc's foreign ministers meet on Tuesday.

    The severity of future European Union sanctions could depend on the Netherlands, which suffered the greatest loss of life when the Malaysia Airlines flight was brought down.

    President Barack Obama has piled pressure on Europe for a more forceful response and the three leading EU powers - Britain, France and Germany - said they should be ready to ratchet up sanctions.

    Britain, in particular, said it was willing to suffer the economic consequences.

    But diplomats said Tuesday's meeting was not expected to go further than agreeing on companies and people to be hit with asset freezes under a more aggressive framework agreed last week. Previously, they had only said they would decide on the list by the end of July.

    Several diplomats said moving towards more sweeping economic sanctions could only be decided by heads of government. The attitude of the Netherlands, which lost 193 people in the incident, would be critical, diplomats said.

    The next scheduled summit of EU leaders is on August 30, although EU members could call for another emergency meeting.

    “The impulse must come from The Hague because they have the moral mandate to demand a resolute, firm reaction. Everything depends on that,” one EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

    “I think the events will serve to speed up sanctions, but as long as no new European council [of leaders] is called, ministers cannot go further even if they want to,” another EU diplomat said.

    Proof?

    A summit of EU leaders on July 16, the day before the airliner was shot down, agreed the EU would sanction Russian companies that help to destabilize Ukraine and block new loans to Russia.

    The wording was deliberately vague as the meeting agreed to target “entities, including from the Russian Federation, that are materially or financially supporting actions undermining or threatening Ukraine's sovereignty.”

    The United States and its allies have blamed pro-Russian rebels and Moscow itself over the downing of the plane. Russia has denied involvement.

    Speaking in parliament on Monday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU would impose further sanctions on Russia if it were proved that Russia was directly or indirectly responsible for bringing the plane down.

    His words cast doubt over whether the disaster would prove to be a turning point for international pressure to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, which has killed hundreds since pro-Western protests toppled the Moscow-backed president in Kyiv in February and Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula a month later.

    ‘Collective economic suicide’

    On Monday, EU diplomats made clear sectoral sanctions would still be extremely difficult for some of Europe's poorer nations. They are especially nervous about the energy sector, central to the Russian economy, but also to the European Union.

    EU nations rely on Russia for about 30 percent of their gas demand and have intertwined interests based on decades of energy reliance. According to U.N. data, excluding Russian gas exports - around $60 billion a year - the Netherlands was Russia's biggest export destination last year, mostly oil and metals.

    “Energy sanctions would most likely derail the fragile European recovery in general and could even lead to a complete economic collapse in certain member states,” one diplomat said. “I don't see how collective economic suicide serves us or the Ukrainians.”

    While some member states, such as Britain, do not rely on Russian gas, others are 100 percent dependent on Russia, having no other suppliers. In volume terms, Germany and Italy have the biggest exposure.

    Diplomats said that if energy had to be part of any sanctions regime, the European Union would have to agree ways to share the financial burden.

    Britain has said it too would suffer from any economic sanctions but it is willing to pay the price.

    “I would say... any sanctions will have an economic impact, and we are prepared to undertake further sanctions,” British Finance Minister George Osborne told BBC radio's Today program on Monday. “But think of the economic hit... of allowing international borders to be ignored, of allowing airlines to be shot down - that's a much greater economic hit for Britain and we're not prepared to allow that to happen.”

    London is a prime destination for Russian businesses and Russian oligarchs are major property owners in Britain.

    Energy major BP already faces the prospect of fallout following the U.S. decision to sanction Russia's largest oil firm Rosneft, of which BP owns a fifth.

    Another sensitive area is defense. France has said so far it is going ahead with a 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) contract to supply Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia because canceling the deal would do more damage to Paris than to Moscow.

    On Monday, a French defense ministry official said any decision on whether to suspend the delivery of the first warship would only take place in October.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.