The Decisive Role of Brussels? EU Anti-Russia Sanctions Scenarios

27.08.2018

A new instalment of US congressional and State Department sanctions initiatives has turned the US into the key newsmaker on Russia sanctions. The DASKAA bill, combined with the activation of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, is threatening serious new restrictions in the energy sector, finance, and a number of other areas. Nevertheless, the success of the new sanctions depends not only and not so much on the United States as on approaches of other members of the sanctions coalition, primarily the EU. 

Research literature on sanctions has for a long time focused on how various factors influence their efficiency interpreted as primarily the ability of sanctions to change a target country’s political course. Sanctions can inflict serious damage on a target country’s economy and yet produce a zero or negative effect. Therefore, we can hardly consider as effective even the most draconian sanctions that fail to bring about the expected political effect. A prominent student of the sanctions issue, Daniel Drezner, has discovered an interesting regularity: Sanctions are much more effective if used against allies rather than enemies. In other words, even a minimal impact on allies produces impressive political results, whereas the harshest sanctions imposed on adversaries often make the latter dig in their heels and obstinately go on with their policies.[1] Navin Bapat and his colleagues have discovered that the decisive factors of success are the cost of sanctions for a target country and the ability of their initiators to form a broad coalition.[2] Consolidating a sanctions coalition is of particular importance under the present circumstances, given that Russia has been rather successful in adapting to sanctions and generally managed to reduce their sting.    

The requirement of close coordination with allies and partners is a long-standing tradition of US laws on sanctions. For example, efforts to bring pressure to bear on Iran were only modestly successful until the US managed to enlist the support of the EU and such major partners as Japan, India and South Korea, as well as the UN Security Council. As for Russia, the call for international coordination keynotes PL 115-44 (CAATSA) and the new sanctions bill, DASKAA, which is even more demanding in this regard. For example, the US administration is required to monitor whether the EU takes steps against Russia that are similar to the US moves and explain why this has not happened. For understandable reasons, the Americans are unable to legalize their unilateral sanctions against Russia through the UN Security Council. It looks like many of its international partners are not overly eager to pick a quarrel with Russia, either. What is left is the EU, America’s closest ally and participant in the US sanctions offensive against Russia. Therefore, coordination with it is emerging as an important priority. 

Starting from 2014 and up to late 2016, the US and EU moves against Russia were generally similar and directed towards the same goal. The first series of EU sanctions was regulated by European Council Decision 2014/145 CFSP of March 17, 2014 (or Decision 145).[3] Decision 145 introduced personal sanctions against 21 citizens of the Russian Federation and Ukraine, including visa and personal financial restrictions (they could no longer travel in or transit through the EU, and their assets were frozen in the EU space). This list was later expanded to include 161 individuals and 41 legal entities (as of September 2018).[4] On June 23, 2014, the European Council approved Decision 2014/386/CFSP, which imposed a ban on importing goods and services from Crimea and Sevastopol following their accession to Russia.[5] Later this document was also considerably expanded. Decision 2014/933/CFSP of December 18, 2014 prohibited individuals and legal entities in the EU to buy real estate in Crimea and Sevastopol, finance projects, invest in Crimea, render tourist services there, and buy or sell transport, telecommunications or energy goods or technologies.[6] On July 31, 2014, the European Council introduced sectoral sanctions against Russia, as sealed by Decision 2014/512/CFSP.[7] The package was aimed at its defense, banking and energy sectors and went in step with the identical US moves (Presidential Executive Orders 13660, 13661, 13662 and 13685).[8] 

The said EU documents form the basis of its sanctions policy against Russia up till now. The United States, in turn, has escalated the sanctions. CAATSA of August 2, 2017, implied not only Ukraine-related sanctions but also a “punishment” for Russia because of its support for the Syrian government, its alleged election interference, incidents in cyberspace, human rights violations, corruption, violation of the non-proliferation regime, etc.[9] DASKAA takes this line even further,[10] while the employment of the 1991 Act adds charges of using chemical weapons.[11] 

The EU rendered political support to many US statements and actions but avoided introducing new sanctions against Russia. The problem was that many of the actions imputed to Russia had not been proved. Besides, the US sanctions directly affected the economic interests of certain EU countries. The most resonant case was, of course, the US attempt to stop the Nord Stream-2 project. Excessive sanctions would inevitably cause a new spiral in political tensions, which would have inflicted much greater losses on the EU than on the US by virtue of a far higher level of European ties with Russia. 

If the EU preserves the status quo, the new American sanctions may prove unilateral and therefore less effective. On the contrary, the EU joining the new US sanctions would mean a surge in the consolidated pressure. However, this is unlikely to lead to Moscow’s full isolation and thus the sanctions coalition will anyway be limited in its scope. The following scenarios of EU actions could be identified: 

Scenario #1. The EU joins the US sanctions fully or partly. Any new formal EC document on extending sanctions will be a diplomatic victory for the United States because this will mean that the EU policy has edged closer to the United States course. 

Scenario #2. The EU preserves the status quo and refrains from joining new sanctions. In this scenario, the Americans may achieve a measure of success even without Brussels formally introducing sanctions against Russia. Iran’s case shows that private businesses prefer to minimize risks and leave a target country even if the EU comes out against unilateral US sanctions. 

Scenario #3. The EU curtails anti-Russia sanction if there is progress in Ukraine settlement. This scenario is unlikely but it is retained as a clear-cut political alternative, whereas the Americans have no such alternative: the Ukraine-related sanctions have been “polluted” with measures regarding other issues and assumed the status of “eternal.” 

Generally, the EU diplomacy enjoys a greater leeway in relations with Russia by comparison with the US diplomacy. The Americans can hardly employ anything other than tough pressure, while the EU can contemplate a broad range of more constructive steps. We should not be under an illusion that relations with Brussels could be restored to their former level. But today the EU is a more reliable partner for Moscow in addressing many international issues than the United States.


[1] Drezner, Daniel. The Sanctions Paradox: Economic Statecraft and International Relations. Cambridge Studies of International Relations, 1999.

[2] Bapat, Navin; Heinrich, Tobias; Yoshiharu, Kobayashi; Clifton, Morgan. Determinants of Sanctions Effectiveness: Sensitivity Analysis Using New Data. // International Interactions, 2013, Vol. 39.

[3] Council Decision 2014/145/CFSP of 17 March 2014 Concerning Restrictive Measures in Respect of Actions Undermining or Threatening the Territorial Integrity, Sovereignty and Independence of Ukraine.

[4] See https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?qid=1521625455688&uri=CELEX:02014D0145-20171121

[5] Council Decision 2014/386/CFSP of 23 June 2014 Concerning Restrictions on Goods Originating in Crimea and Sevastopol, in Response to the Illegal Annexation of Crimea. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32014D0386&from=EN

[6] Council Decision 2014/933/CFSP of 18 December 2014 Amending Council Decision 2014/386/CFSP of 23 June 2014 Concerning Restrictions on Goods Originating in Crimea and Sevastopol, in Response to the Illegal Annexation of Crimea. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32014D0933&from=EN

[7] Council Decision 2014/512/CFSP of 31 July 2014 Concerning Restrictive Measures in View of Russia’s Actions Destabilizing the Situation in Ukraine. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/dec/2014/512/oj

[8] https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/ukraine.aspx

[9] Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/hr3364_pl115-44.pdf

[10] Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018. S 3336. Introduced 08 August 2018. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/3336/text

[11] Chemical and Biological Weapons Control Act of 1991. Public Law 102-182 December 4, 1991. http://uscode.house.gov/statutes/pl/102/182.pdf


Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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