EU Sanctions against Russia – Halfhearted or Best Response?

von Christina Eckes

Much has already been written about the European Union’s sanctions against a number of Russian officials following the actions of the Putin government in the region of Crimea. One main point of criticism is that they are unlikely to have any effect because the measures are too weak and the circle of targets is too limited. However due to the lack of better alternatives, the EU’s targeted sanctions may be the best response. This is perhaps not an argument that can win hearts but it should certainly win minds.

No one in Europe is in favour of a military response. Angela Merkel has excluded such a response and the minister of defence, Ursula von der Leyen, was criticised for emphasising that that NATO does not only exist on paper but could also lead to real life consequences. Hence, what are realistic alternatives? These seem to cover a range of non-military actions from diplomatic efforts and targeted sanctions to more comprehensive sanctions. It should be added that diplomatic efforts will continue, with or without sanctions.

Targeted sanctions are the EU’s strong suit within its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). They are generally supported by a broad political consensus, quickly deployable, relatively effective, and entail limited collateral damage. At present, the EU operates 29 targeted sanctions regimes, the majority of which are autonomous EU sanctions and hence not adopted to give effect to UN lists of targets. Some, such as for example sanctions against Iran, are hybrid systems; here both the UN and the EU identify the appropriate targets. EU sanctions against Russia are for obvious reasons autonomous sanctions ...

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