Open Europe Blog

Following a speech to both Houses of the Russian Parliament this morning, Vladimir Putin has signed a Treaty that will see Crimea and City of Sevastopol joining the Russian Federation. Western leaders have warned the move would have “additional and far-reaching consequences”, on top of the targeted sanctions agreed by EU foreign ministers on 21 Russian and Ukrainian individuals yesterday.

What could these additional measures involve? And how far can the EU go? We have just published a new briefing addressing these questions. We have looked at what tools the EU has available to force Russia to back down in Crimea, including the effectiveness of the various sanctions it could deploy.

Our assessment is that, in the short term, the most effective economic measures could be a combination of targeted sanctions on individuals and business interests and potentially limiting sales to Russia of products on which they are externally reliant – such as machinery, chemicals and medical products. While Moscow can employ rogue tactics in the short-term which Europe can’t match, in any prolonged economic stand-off, the odds are in the EU’s favour.

You can read our new briefing here. These are our key findings:

  • Additional targeted individual sanctions or a potential arms embargo, would be hard to agree amongst the EU’s 28 member states and their impact remains unclear, though there may be some scope for a group of EU states to move ahead with some additional sanctions if it’s not possible to get agreement at the level of all 28. 
  • Still, cleverly targeted sanctions on individuals and business interests could hurt Russia. Between 2008 and 2013, $421bn worth of private sector money – equivalent to 20% of Russian GDP – has flown out of the country, while Russia’s Net International Investment Position (NIIP) remains strongly positive. This suggests that there are sizeable amounts of Russian money invested abroad on which sanctions could be imposed, causing significant problems for high-ranking individuals and businesses. That said, the routing of this money through offshore centres makes it very difficult to track (click on the graphs to enlarge).
  • Therefore, the most effective economic measures could be a combination of targeted sanctions on influential individuals close to the top of the regime, business interests, specific firms wielding power in Ukraine (such as Gazprom) and potentially limiting sales to Russia of products on which they are externally reliant – such as machinery, chemicals and medical products (click on the graphs to enlarge). 
  • Sweeping energy sanctions would hit Russia the hardest but due to the EU’s dependence on Russian gas – in some countries as much as 100% of gas imports are Russian – this option is politically unlikely and could prove prohibitively expensive for the EU. 
  • Such decisions should not be taken lightly and Russia has an array of retaliatory options, including leveraging energy market power to secure favourable bilateral deals with other countries, applying tit-for-tat sanctions or, in extremis, wielding its hard power. 
  • However, whilst Moscow can use such rogue tactics in the short-term, which the EU, for various reasons can’t, in any prolonged stand-off the odds favour the EU, due to Russia’s disastrous demographic trends and relatively undiversified economy. For all these reasons, a negotiated settlement still remains the most likely option. 
  • Fundamentally, while this is a conflict driven by Moscow, it illustrates the EU’s “all or nothing” approach to its neighbourhood is no longer viable in the 21st Century. If the EU is to extend its influence further, it must be prepared to offer an alternative model of enlargement or association, lowering the political hurdles on the path to Europe. 

Follow us on Twitter @OpenEurope for all the latest updates on the Ukraine crisis.

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