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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs