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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst – 2 year fixed term contract – Kent – Circa £55k

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...

Experienced Foundation Teacher

£100 - £222 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting f...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: SEN TA's apply now! West Midlands

Network Infrastructure Technical Lead - up to £45k DOE - Surrey

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

An oil rig in the North Sea  

The Scottish people deserve the truth about North Sea oil and gas

Oliver Courtney
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week