It was emerging. After Russia failed to comply with the European Union’s request to release Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the community is launching new sanctions against Moscow. At a meeting in Brussels on Monday, the foreign ministers of the EU countries agreed to begin preparations for new punitive measures. Four Russian people responsible for the crackdown on Navalny are said to be subject to sanctions, funds to be frozen and entry bans to be imposed. There was no mention of any measures against oligarchs in the vicinity of President Vladimir Putin, as requested by Poland, for example.
Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg believes in the effectiveness of the steps. If the sanctions were toothless, Russia would not have responded with threats, he told journalists in Brussels.
End of relationships?
In fact, in the run-up to the meeting of EU ministers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had shown himself to be more than cold and threatened to break off Russia’s relations with the EU in the event of new sanctions. The Kremlin would then only have diplomatic dealings with individual EU states; direct contacts with the EU in Brussels would only continue on a technical level. Lavrov’s threat in itself suggests that the EU sanctions that have been imposed so far are indeed a fundamental problem for Russia.
This is countered by the fact that the country has so far put up with the sanctions quite well. “A lot has been absorbed through import substitution, especially in the agricultural sector, where there has been strong growth rates in recent years”, reports the political scientist Gerhard Mangott. Other trading partners were sought, such as Turkey or countries in Latin America. China stepped in as a technology partner.
No change in behavior
“Russia has so far proven to be quite resistant to the Western punitive measures. The sanctions have cost growth rates since 2014, but only about 0.2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) annually. That is not a significant figure,” explains Mangott.
Politically, too, the measures did not achieve what they should have done. “Actually, sanctions should induce a state to change its behavior. In a specific case that would be the release of Nawalny and the suspension of the sentence against him. That is of course something that simply will not happen,” explains Mangott. Why? “Because that would be a great victory for Navalny domestically, which would naturally pose a far greater threat to Putin’s system in freedom than in custody.
“Russia will not bow to external pressure”
Of course, that would be something that goes against Russia’s self-image as a great power and offends its pronounced pride. “The idea that Russia will ever bow to external pressure is quite absurd,” explains Mangott. He interprets Lavrov’s anger at the sanctions not as anger at their material repercussions, but as the unwillingness of the Russian leadership to allow Brussels to play the role of senior teacher. “Lavrov has stressed several times that the EU would not tolerate this stance to comment on Russia’s internal and external behavior with sanctions.” In this respect, a sharp reaction from Moscow, such as breaking off relations, is quite conceivable.
But if sanctions cannot change the behavior of the counterpart, only one thing remains: a “signal effect”, as Mangott calls it. “You signal disapproval and send a signal to third countries that such behavior would also find disapproval.” This effect has meanwhile worn off with the series of ineffective sanctions.
Two self-conceptions collide
The EU has several problems in dealing with Russia: Firstly, it is politically extremely heterogeneous and cannot agree on stricter measures against Moscow, as Poland and the Baltic states want. Second, it sees itself as a community of values, as a guardian of human rights. Leaving events like the one around Navalny uncommented goes against the self-image of the EU just as little as Russia can accept that it should obey orders from outside. The collision is programmed.
Shot in the knee
But aren’t there any measures that would seriously hurt Russia? “Of course, Brussels could impose strong economic sanctions, such as blocking Russian oil and gas exports,” says Mangott. “The damage to our own economy would be immense. The EU cannot afford such sanctions,” says the expert. They would probably also be morally questionable, especially since alternative supplier states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Nigeria are even more problematic than Russia in terms of human rights.
#sanctions #Russia #bite #Brussels