Washington, Europe getting serious about Russia sanctions over Crimea?

posted at 9:21 am on March 12, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Almost two weeks after Russian troops began taking over the Crimean peninsula, Western nations have finally started taking a serious look at substantive sanctions. The European Union has drafted a seven-page proposal for applying sanctions on travel and financial assets for those responsible for the invasion. Reuters has an exclusive look at the document, which passed its first reading on a silent vote:

EU member states have agreed the wording of sanctions on Russia, including travel restrictions and asset freezes against those responsible for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The seven-page document describes in detail the restrictive measures to be taken against Moscow if it does not reverse course in Crimea and begin talks with international mediators on efforts to resolve the crisis over Ukraine.

If approved by EU foreign ministers at a meeting on Monday, they would be the first sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia since the end of the Cold War, marking a severe deterioration in East-West relations.

“Member states shall take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into, or transit through, their territories of the natural persons responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” reads Article 1 of the document.

The second article covers assets held in the European Union and states that “all funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled” by those responsible for actions which have undermined Ukraine’s integrity “shall be frozen”.

The Washington Post reported earlier today that the West has finally decided to get serious, but it may be a little late for that. The government installed in Crimea will hold a plebescite on Sunday to give Crimeans a choice between annexation with Russia now, or … annexation with Russia later. The campaign is as thoughtful and open as one would imagine — in the Soviet era:

But ahead of a Sunday referendum on whether Crimea should remain in Ukraine or become part of Russia, billboards and posters popped up for what has become a one-sided campaign. The signs, all favoring Russia, boiled down the choice to one between being annexed to Russia or enduring fascism and Nazism by staying in Ukraine.

One billboard showed two maps of Crimea: one adorned with a swastika, the other with the tricolor stripes of the Russian flag. Another showed the acronym NATO with an X drawn over it in a way that suggests a vulgarity in Russian.

Crimean authorities are moving apace as if the referendum had already taken place. On Tuesday, the regional parliament voted to declare Crimea an independent state, a move evidently aimed at legally smoothing the way for the region’s annexation to Russia.

The 78 to 3 parliament vote was denounced by human rights and opposition activists, who have urged a boycott of the referendum.

Alex Mnatsakanian, a Moscow-based human rights activist now working in Simferopol, described pro-Russian Crimean leaders as a “locomotive” trying to rush through annexation under a thin cover of legislative decrees with no legal standing.

“They are trying to make a trick that will stop the world from blaming Russia,” Mnatsakanian said. “But if they are trying to put a good face on it, this is impossible with all the Russian forces who are everywhere in Crimea now. It is just a circus.”

That may also describe the efforts to apply sanctions by the EU. They depend on Russia for natural-gas imports, in part because they don’t like drilling and fracking to get their own. European officials are now pleading with the US to loosen restrictions on exporting liquid natural gas in order to hit Russia where it will really hurt — in its treasury:

But with Russian troops tightening their grip on Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula, the advocates for more U.S. gas exports have added what they hope will be a compelling geopolitical argument to their quiver: The Obama administration and Congress can use the nation’s enormous gas reserves as a weapon to help Ukraine and other European countries break their dependency on Russian gas and thereby reduce Moscow’s political leverage over them.

“Russia has repeatedly used its supply of natural gas to pressure Ukraine economically and politically, and has announced that it will significantly increase its cost in a deliberate effort to squeeze Ukraine,” California Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at a hearing last week on the Ukraine crisis. “Fortunately, we have an option to counter this threat, namely reducing the current impediments to exports of American natural gas.”

The Ukraine crisis also has brought new players to the debate. European officials who want to reduce their dependency on Russian gas also have seized on the situation to mount a major lobbying campaign in Washington for new legislation to ease regulations on American LNG exports. Some of these countries, including Bulgaria, Sweden and the Baltic states, rely on Russia for 100 percent of their gas supplies, and Moscow has shown repeatedly it is willing to crimp supplies for leverage in political disputes. Just last week, Russia’s state-owned Gazprom threatened to cut off gas exports to Ukraine over unpaid bills, as it did in 2009.

Over the past few weeks, ambassadors from Eastern and Central Europe, the Baltic states and Greece have met with Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and Edward Whitfield of Kentucky, to plead for a liberalization of the laws and regulations that limit U.S. gas exports. They also have conferred with Republican Michael R. Turner of Ohio, who sits on the Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform panels.

“The presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe, and congressional action to expedite LNG exports to America’s allies would come at a critically important time for the region,” the ambassadors of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia wrote in a letter last week to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, another outspoken supporter of expanding gas exports. “Energy security is not only a day-to-day issue for millions of citizens in our region, but it is one of the most important security challenges that America’s allies face in Central and Eastern Europe today.”

Russia will not hesitate to cut off or restrict its nat-gas exports to the EU in order to fight these sanctions. They have done the same with Ukraine in the past when it first threatened to spin into the West’s orbit after the 2004 Orange Revolution that first pushed Viktor Yanukovich out of power. That puts a rather literal spin on the term “cold war,” and it’s likely to be an accurate term if the EU continues with its sanctions. It will need another source of supply to neutralize the only economic weapon Russia has.

If the US wants to hit Russia over its seizure of Crimea, boosting LNG exports to Europe makes a lot more sense than travel restrictions for Russia’s oligarchs. It will create a lot more jobs here, too.


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Why is it always sanctions, and not overwhelming them with our roaring economy? Oh ya, green energy, I forgot.

Fenris on March 12, 2014 at 9:26 AM

Why are we always talking sanctions, instead of overwhelming them with our roaring economy? Green energy, that’s why.

Fenris on March 12, 2014 at 9:27 AM

Until Europe finds an alternative to the Oil and Gas Russia sells them, any real sanctions are going to hurt Europe more than Russia I think.

Johnnyreb on March 12, 2014 at 9:28 AM

If the US wants to hit Russia over its seizure of Crimea, boosting LNG exports to Europe makes a lot more sense than travel restrictions for Russia’s oligarchs. It will create a lot more jobs here, too.

Which is why Obama won’t do it.

“We need more windmills and solar panels.”

Bitter Clinger on March 12, 2014 at 9:35 AM

F R E E
C R I M E A !
F R E E
S H A D !

KOOLAID2 on March 12, 2014 at 9:46 AM

It will create a lot more jobs here, too.

Right, like the Wanker-in-Chief will allow that to happen – more jobs? Not a chance.

karra on March 12, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Economic and financial sanctions will never hurt thugs and dictators…

mnjg on March 12, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Instead, can we find out how much money Mr. Putin himself has and then let everyone in Russia know? Last I heard it was about $1 Billion.

ktrelski on March 12, 2014 at 9:57 AM

“Member states shall take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into, or transit through, their territories of the natural persons responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” reads Article 1 of the document.

What does that even mean? Just Putin and a few of his deputies? The troops in Ukraine. “the natural persons” … Huh?

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on March 12, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Ed, isn’t just too little too late?

Oil Can on March 12, 2014 at 9:59 AM

I’d be a little scared if I was Europe, especially former eastern bloc countries like Poland. I hate to bring up the Godwin rule, but someone who starts to annex other countries unchecked is awfully close to how Hitler started. If he is allowed Crimea, what is to stop him from taking Ukraine and so on..

melle1228 on March 12, 2014 at 10:07 AM

By the time US supplies of natural gas hits the European market, the annexation (more or less) of the Crimea and Russian hegemony over Eastern Ukraine will have long been a fait accompli. O’ hates carbon based energy, clean or otherwise, and has been dragging his feet for years ref opening up more ports (drip -drip) for export. Tankers have to be built, infrastructure built (both here and in Europe) and the regulatory behemoth directed to help it all happen. O’ will continue to ban offshore and Fed land development of resources (except, perhaps, of shrimp on treadmills) and the ‘Pipeline’ will continue to be held back for political reasons. O’ MAY Ok the line, but only at the last minute to try to save the bacon of Dems in the 2014 elections. This ‘president’ is a fellow-traveling, True Believer whose ideology trumps everything, even to the detriment of the nation and world.

vnvet on March 12, 2014 at 10:09 AM

The Continental news groups say “Brussels” even though it’s the de facto captial. Washington, Brussels, Moscow, etc. FYI.

ZachV on March 12, 2014 at 10:09 AM

So, they are notifying Russians that they are going to freeze their assets.

How many of those assets will still be in European banks by the time they get around to actually doing it?

Wire transfers can be done very quickly and I imagine there is a lot of that activity going on right now.

Kaffa on March 12, 2014 at 10:10 AM

Poland has a port specifically designed to accept shipments of oil and liquefied fuels. So, the infrastructure to supply Central and Eastern Europe is there all we need is a leader who cares more about preventing WWIII than a war on climate change.

ktrelski on March 12, 2014 at 10:13 AM

Boy I can see that Putin is shaking in his boots now!! I’m sure he’ll cave in by the end of the week! / Or maybe after he takes back Latvia!!

Deano1952 on March 12, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Two questions:

First, do we have sufficient liquefaction facilities to supply Europe with sufficient gas to make up for a shortfall from Russia?

Second, has anyone brought up the possibility of getting NATO to encourage Turkey to close the Bosphorus Straits to Russian shipping…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Boy I can see that Putin is shaking in his boots now!! I’m sure he’ll cave in by the end of the week! / Or maybe after he takes back Latvia!!

Deano1952 on March 12, 2014 at 10:14 AM

LOL– I heard Putin really felt threatened after saw Obama’s Funny or Die two ferns interview.

melle1228 on March 12, 2014 at 10:19 AM

Second, has anyone brought up the possibility of getting NATO to encourage Turkey to close the Bosphorus Straits to Russian shipping…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Are we sure Turkey would go along with it. Seems to me about a year ago, Turkey and Russia were getting cozy.

melle1228 on March 12, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Short-term they really can’t do anything to Russian on the Crimea, especially with Mr. Dithers in the Oval Office. Long-term, the Europeans can stop treating “Gasland” like a Bible and start allowing and supporting fracking of their own shale formation areas, to cut off Putin’s natural gas foreign income and control over those countries reliant on his gas exports.

jon1979 on March 12, 2014 at 10:26 AM

Second, has anyone brought up the possibility of getting NATO to encourage Turkey to close the Bosphorus Straits to Russian shipping…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:17 AM

How do you actually close the Bosphrous? Would Turkey really fire on a Russian ship?

Kaffa on March 12, 2014 at 10:26 AM

Threaten to send the Russians Lena Dunham, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus. Putin will take any deal to keep that from happening.

Viator on March 12, 2014 at 10:29 AM

How do you actually close the Bosphrous? Would Turkey really fire on a Russian ship?

Kaffa on March 12, 2014 at 10:26 AM

Would Russian ships try to run a blockade through a NATO country where there ships have been banned…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:31 AM

I am sorry to see the return of the “Cold War”. However, Resident Obama brought it upon U.S. by selling U.S. down the river by gutting the DOD and other programs that allowed U.S. to give President Putin pause to think twice.

MSGTAS on March 12, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Boy I can see that Putin is shaking in his boots ботинки now!!

Deano1952 on March 12, 2014 at 10:14 AM

:-)

[I said the exact same thing the other day and looked up the Russian word for 'boots]

Resist We Much on March 12, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Am I the only one that doesn’t see the Russian threat to Europe as sort of a good thing? I think Europe has gotten too cozy in their “peace dividend” haze. It is about time they started thinking about defense again. They don’t even keep up their NATO contracts, and rely too heavily on us if something were to happen. I say let them be reminded that tyrants are knocking on their door. They have completely forgotten it; enough to let little “stans” of Muslim communities form all over Europe.

melle1228 on March 12, 2014 at 10:36 AM

Resist We Much on March 12, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Does my heart good to hear I’m thinking along with RWM!! You must be rubbing off on me!! Thanks for all of your billiant posts!

Deano1952 on March 12, 2014 at 10:39 AM

brilliant. Oops. Guess I still have a ways to go! :-)

Deano1952 on March 12, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Would Russian ships try to run a blockade through a NATO country where there ships have been banned…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Yes. Who fires the first shot?

Kaffa on March 12, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Yes. Who fires the first shot?

Kaffa on March 12, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Turkish Coast Guard if we’re talking commercial vessels. Warships… that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Turkish Coast Guard if we’re talking commercial vessels. Warships… that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:46 AM

IMHO if Russia is willing to go to war over Crimea for access to its port, then Russia would certainly be willing to go to war over access to the Mediterranean.

Kaffa on March 12, 2014 at 10:57 AM

Russia is collapsing within and Putin is getting desperate.

albill on March 12, 2014 at 11:17 AM

Washington, Europe getting serious about Russia sanctions over Crimea…

Yeah, and by the time they get around to actually doing anything Putin’s/Russia’s military, which is advancing further into the Ukraine right now, will have taken all of the Ukraine!

easyt65 on March 12, 2014 at 11:46 AM

Second, has anyone brought up the possibility of getting NATO to encourage Turkey to close the Bosphorus Straits to Russian shipping…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Are we sure Turkey would go along with it. Seems to me about a year ago, Turkey and Russia were getting cozy.

melle1228 on March 12, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Obama did say he would pardon a turkey this year. Maybe he would pardon the country of Turkey if they closed the straits near Istanbul to Russian shipping.

Steve Z on March 12, 2014 at 1:10 PM

Turkish Coast Guard if we’re talking commercial vessels. Warships… that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it…?

JohnGalt23 on March 12, 2014 at 10:46 AM

IMHO if Russia is willing to go to war over Crimea for access to its port, then Russia would certainly be willing to go to war over access to the Mediterranean.

Kaffa on March 12, 2014 at 10:57 AM

I’m not so sure about that. Russia’s navy has deteriorated since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and they may not have enough ships and sailors to take on the U.S. navy in a battle for the Mediterranean, where we would probably have help from other countries bordering the Mediterranean, such as France, Italy, and Israel, as well as the British navy (which has a base in Gibraltar).

From the NATO point of view, this strategy could be extremely effective if the naval forces were concentrated at the choke points–the outlet of the straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and the Straits of Gibraltar (to prevent Russian ships from entering the Mediterranean after sailing around Scandinavia). Another pressure point could be the eastern arm of the Baltic Sea leading to Saint Petersburg.

Would Putin want to risk a full-blown naval war at close range, which he would probably lose, in order to control the Black Sea, where his ships would be blocked in? Or would he accept a deal whereby NATO promises to release the blockade after the last Russian troops leave Crimea? Russia already has access to the Black Sea along its east shore (including Sochi), but it is only useful if Russian ships can enter the Mediterranean.

Steve Z on March 12, 2014 at 1:27 PM

Define “responsible persons”. Therein lies the weakness.

Do you really believe the British, who are the biggest benefactors of Russian Oligarchs ill gotten gains, which they’ve mostly plowed into British real-estate and investments- are going to allow…sanctions against them?

Right. And I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Marcus Traianus on March 12, 2014 at 3:14 PM