Earlier this week, the European Union agreed slap penalty about a handful of senior Russian officials in the imprisonment of jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny. Using a series of new sanctions specifically designed to target human rights abuses, Brussels will freeze bank accounts and deny visas to the four top Russian court and security officials involved in the Navalny case.
Like the sentencing, it wasn’t all that drastic: it hurt a little bit to lose access to European banks and beaches, but no one suspected that this move would convince the Kremlin to release Navalny. The dissidents themselves called Brussels to do more.
So why does the EU, the world’s largest economic bloc, appear to have so little influence over a country that is the economy is hardly bigger than Spain? A few things to remember.
Russia keeps the heat burning in Europe. The European Union depends on Moscow for about 40 percent of gas imports and 30 percent of oil imports. For some EU countries, the figures are even higher: Germany gets half gas from Russian companies and moving forward with a new Russian gas pipeline as we talked about. In Eastern Europe, dependency ranges from two thirds in some countries to one hundred percent in the Baltic countries.
The EU also needs Russian cooperation outside of Europe. Over the past decade, Moscow has cleverly positioned itself as king in several crises beyond European borders that reverberate inside the union. In Syria, Libya, the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa, Russian military or mercenaries used a very large role in a conflict that has led to large numbers of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.
There really is no “EU”. The European Union is actually 27 member states, each of which has their own interests and views on Russia. Germany, for example, must balance its ambition to implement a more assertive, pro-democracy European foreign policy with the energy demands of its strong industry. France has long sought closer cooperation with Moscow on geopolitical issues in the Middle East and Africa. Many former Eastern Bloc countries, meanwhile, have began to see Moscow as a useful counterweight to arrogant or incompetent Brussels. And of course, Britain, which has historically taken tougher action against Russia, is now no longer part of the EU at all.
Doing more will require a hard stomach. To be clear, it’s not that the EU has no way of seriously hurting the Kremlin. Imposing sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas exports or its foreign debt would deal a major blow to the Putin regime. But the backlash for Europe will be devastating – European consumers and factories are likely to suffer a massive energy shock, while financial markets and banks trading Russian debt will be in turmoil.
After all, there is a reason that even in 2014 – when Russia invaded an EU partner country and started a civil war there – both Europe (and the US, with much less vulnerability to Russian retaliation than its European friends) stopped making moves. big. like this.
Underline: Europe wants to be a more active global player in the field of security and human rights. But when it comes to Russia, reality is tough.