Sanctions can still work in eastern Ukraine

Crimea was one thing. Eastern Ukraine is entirely another matter and it is against Russia's interest to incite separatism there

 

Share

No sooner had the heads of the G7 leading nations issued a statement yesterday condemning Russia for fomenting trouble in eastern Ukraine than pro-Russian militias kidnapped eight international observers. The statement was, as required by diplomatic protocol, "strongly worded". It said the G7 leaders "have now agreed that we will move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia". But the response of the gunmen on the ground seems to illustrate the ineffectiveness of sanctions.

We should, however, be clear. Sanctions could bring pressure to bear on Vladimir Putin, the Russian President; they should be made more stringent; but there is a limit to what the United States and the European Union, as the other guarantors of Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity apart from Russia, can achieve.

The travel bans and minor irritations imposed on Russia so far are weaker than they could have been, for good and bad reasons. The good – or at least pragmatic – reason is that so much of the EU, including Germany, is dependent on Russian gas. There has been talk of the US diverting some of its bonanza of shale gas to Europe to reduce this dependence, but so far this has been neither practical nor affordable.

The cowardly reason is that governments, including our own, have been sensitive to business lobbying. This was revealed when yet another document was caught on camera by a photographer, as an official walked up Downing Street last month. It suggested that the UK should "not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London's financial centre to Russians".

This was a mistake. It was notable that yesterday's G7 statement did not specify what "additional sanctions" would be imposed. When EU diplomats meet tomorrow, they should reconsider that omission. It is, of course, not mere cowardice that has prompted EU governments to hold back from tougher measures. There is a principled, if slightly cynical, argument that Mr Putin is doing so much damage to Russian economic interests by his nationalist adventurism that he needs no help from us to make it worse. Indeed, if trade and financial sanctions were imposed, it would allow Mr Putin to blame "the West" for Russia's hardship rather than his own folly.

It is certainly the case that Mr Putin might be biting off more than he can chew and that if he tries to assimilate populations into Russia who do not want to be assimilated he will only add to Moscow's problems and costs. Crimea was one thing. We should not accept its annexation, but its population is mostly Russian. Eastern Ukraine is entirely another matter and it is quite against Russia's interest to incite separatism there.

Thus the cynic would quote Napoleon and say that the US and EU should not interrupt their enemy when he is making a mistake. The markets have already marked Russia's credit rating down to just above junk status. So far, Mr Putin's assertion of Russian power has won him the support of Russian public opinion, but this may change as the bills begin to come in.

However, the idea that Britain, the EU and the US should hold back for fear that Mr Putin would blame us fails to persuade. His rhetoric is already turned up to the anti-Western maximum, blaming the fall of Ukraine's government on US- and Nato-backed "fascist elements".

Sanctions do not always work. But they can work, and there is no other option open to those who support Ukraine's independence and integrity. Economic pressure is the best hope of bringing Mr Putin to his senses and there is no good reason, now that his proxies have started taking international observers hostage, to hold back from adding to that pressure.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - OTE £60,000

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Inbound Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent