21 March 2014 - an extraordinary day for redrawing the map of Europe
Two documents were being signed at the same time on the same day: in Moscow it was Crimea’s annexation by Russia, in Brussels it was Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU. Putin won Crimea and lost Ukraine.
And a further act was the EU’s decision to upgrade its sanctions against Russia , with additions to the list of individuals subject to visa bans and asset freezes. The additional names now go beyond the first ‘mostly Crimean’ list, into the Kremlin and core institutions in Moscow. Conspicuous personalities now added are Dmitri Rogozin (Deputy Prime Minister advocating annexation of Crimea, also trying to destabilise Moldova), Sergey Glazyev (Kremlin point man for getting Yanukovich not to sign at Vilnius), Valentina Matviyenko (Speaker of the Federation Council), Sergei Narsihkin (Speaker of the Duma), Dmitri Kiselov (media propaganda chief) and Vladislav Surkov (Kremlin adviser master-minding the Crimea annexation). So this is a much more important list.
The first set of diplomatic sanctions included suspending talks over visa liberalisation, a New Agreement, the South Stream gas pipeline. The additions now are extensive, signalling Russia as outcast: cancellation of the next EU-Russia summit, suspension of bilateral summits of Member States, going ahead with G7 (i.e. to the exclusion of Russia of the G8), suspending negotiations for Russia’s accession to the OECD and IEA. Expulsion from the Council of Europe has been suggested, but does not appear among the decisions. The European Council meeting in Brussels hints at “additional and far reaching consequences for relations in a broad range of economic areas” in the event of further moves by Russia to destabilise Ukraine, and asking the Commission to prepare economic sanctions against Crimea, and “possible targeted measures” towards Russia. All four categories of sanctions – visa bans, asset freezes, targeted economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation – are capable of continuous graduation, and in the extreme case would mean isolation for the Russian people and their economy from Europe, and doubtless the US too.
Now on the vital matter of assessment. The measures decided so far are big on symbolism, but of uncertain concrete impact beyond a few Russians more likely to spend their holidays in Crimea or Sochi than the Cote d’Azur. However financial markets have been rattled, and the possible next stage of economic sanctions could become really damaging for Russia. The question is where the red line may be, or should be for triggering the move from the symbolic to major economic sanctions. Many Europeans argue that the annexation of Crimea is such a flagrant breach of international law and principled international relations, that the red line has already been crossed. To limit the current response to symbolic actions risks falling into the category of appeasing the dictator, and thus forgetting Europe’s hugest, catastrophic, traumatic experience of the 20th century.
If it’s appeasement, who is next? No problem, Transnistria has already volunteered. An alternative view is that Putin’s cost-benefit calculations will persuade him to be satisfied with swallowing Crimea, and to be friendly now with the rest of Ukraine, which is what he said in his Crimea annexation speech. But punishment of Ukraine through renewed trade restrictions and huge gas price increases seem already to be in the pipeline. Only one thing is sure, nobody in Europe trusts Putin, so be prepared.