On July 2014, the European Council decided to adopt a package of economic sanctions against Russia. This was in response to a perceived Russian inference with the democratic process in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, and further perceived threats posed by Russia against Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The sanctions targeted specific sectors in Russia, including energy, banking, defense, and included a ban on the purchase and sale of new bonds, stocks, and long-term debts from some Russian banks. This initial sanctions package was extended in June 2015 until 21 January 2016, and further extended to 31 July 2016 in December 2015.
Recently, there had been discussion on further extending the sanctions package past 31 July 2016. In a statement made on 26 May 2016, Germany Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced that, “we are aware that resistance has increased in the EU with regards to extending the sanctions on Russia,” but that, nevertheless, an agreement should be reached. This recent debate on the renewal of sanctions against Russia came as a result of a lack of progress made in implementing the Minsk Agreement; there is doubt in the European community that the Minsk Agreements will be totally implemented by the end of June, and as such, some began to call for an extension of sanctions against Russia. Still, there was a lack of consensus as to the correct course of action to take given the present situation.
Some member states, such as Greece, voiced their resistance to an extension of sanctions against Russia. During an April 7 visit to Russia, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stated that, “to get out of this profound crisis, we need to leave behind this vicious cycle of sanctions.” Indeed, this is the worst relations between Russia and the EU have been since the Cold War. Tsipras further confirmed his beliefs during Putin’s visit to Athens on 27 May 2016 when he, again, spoke out against the “vicious cycle of sanctions, militarisation, and Cold War rhetoric”. Still, Tsipras pledged to stick to the agreements Greece has as a member of the European Union; this did not speak, however, to any potential resistance Greece could show in talks over renewing sanctions.
Greece was not the only voice casting doubt over an extension of sanctions. In April 2016, France’s lower house of Parliament voted in favour of lifting EU sanctions against Russia, in a non-binding vote. On 23 May 2016, France permitted Russia’s Agricultural Minister, Alexander Tkachev, a travel visa, despite the fact that he is one of many Russian diplomats on an EU-wide travel ban. In January 2016, Germany refused Tkachev a travel visa.
However, even Germany seemed to be in support of eventually easing economic sanctions imposed on Russia. On 27 May 2016, a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Germany would support a gradual easing of sanctions against Russia, given that progress would definitely be made in implementing the Minsk agreements. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Italy could also be counted among the skeptics, and had been experiencing varying levels of internal backlash against extending the strict sanctions regime without any changes. They are among the countries that have been most affected by the sanctions package.
A year after the sanctions went into effect, the Parliament published a briefing in October 2015 that outlined the economic consequences of the sanctions on EU member states, and the economic consequences of the counter-sanctions imposed on the EU by Russia. The briefing explained that, as Russia is only the EU’s third largest trading partner, the counter-sanctions imposed by Russia on the EU would only have a contained effect in certain sectors. Indeed, Russia banned (with some exceptions) fruit and vegetable, dairy, and meat imports from Europe. As a result, the agri-food sectors in many member states were affected, to varying degrees. Germany, as the biggest exporter to Russia in the EU, was hit the hardest. Indeed, in late 2015, the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) had already begun calling for an end to sanction. The agriculture industry had suffered heavily in 2015, part of which was attributed to the Russian embargo imposed on agriculture products. From 2014-2015, the average income of a farmer in Germany fell by 35%. As a result of this, the European Commission had agreed to unlock a €500 million package in emergency aid for farmers who had been hit by the embargo; part of this aid package was designated to helping unlock routes to markets in 3rd countries, specifically in Asia. Still, this did not quell anger over such a significant loss of revenue, and job security.
However, despite these setbacks, the EU did vote to extend the economic sanctions package against Russia in June 2016, for at least another six months; the decision was made in a unanimous vote by ambassadors from all 28 members states. In a visit to St. Petersburg, head of EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated, “on Minsk, the European Union is united. And so is the G7. Russia is party to the Minsk agreements. Therefore, the next step is clear: full implementation of the agreement. No more, no less. This is the only way to begin our conversation, and the only way to lift the economic sanctions that have been imposed.” Therefore, it seems that the EU will not compromise its values, and will continue the sanctions no matter their adverse effects.
Ultimately, a few conclusions can be drawn from this:
- There is vocal support for easing or ceasing the economic sanctions package against Russia
- Representatives of the agri-food sector in several countries have required aid due to damaging counter-sanctions imposed on food imports by Russia
- Sanctions against Russia will be extended indefinitely until such time that Russia has fully implemented the Minsk agreements
More information is available at these links:
- Juncker says visit to Russia is to “continue dialogue”, despite tensions:https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/16/juncker-russia-visit-sanctions-eu
- EU seen on track to renew sanctions against Russia:http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-eu-russia-idUSKCN0YA134
- Will the EU prolong economic sanctions against Russia:http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_will_the_eu_prolong_economic_sanctions_against_russia_this_7026
- German foreign minister: ease Russia sanctions “step-by-step”:http://www.politico.eu/article/german-foreign-minister-ease-russia-sanctions-step-by-step/
- Time to reconsider EU sanctions against Moscow, say German farmers:http://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/time-to-reconsider-eu-sanctions-against-moscow-say-german-farmers/
- Economic impact on the EU of sanctions over Ukraine crisis:http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2015/569020/EPRS_BRI(2015)569020_EN.pdf
- Ukraine territorial integrity: EU extends sanctions by Russia for 6 months:http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/03/10-ukraine-territorial-integrity/