The European Union’s foreign ministers determined on Monday to impose sanctions against Russia for the poisoning of Alexej Navalny. An open dialogue with the Kremlin should still continue, nonetheless.

EU: Compelling Evidence Russia Was Behind Attack on Navalny

The European Union’s foreign ministers complied with Germany and France’s request and decided to impose sanctions on Russian intelligence agents during their meeting in Luxembourg. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian had urged the sanctioning of Russian actors for using internationally banned chemical weapons, namely a Russian nerve agent of the Novichok group.

According to Josep Borrell, Berlin and Paris had submitted a list of individuals responsible for the attack and conclusive evidence that all member states accepted.

Maas was pleased with the unanimous decision and said, “it is extremely important, with such a serious crime, in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, that the EU show unity, and it has done so today.” Details on the individuals and the type of sanctions, such as travel restrictions and freezing of assets, were not provided by Borrell. Commenting on today’s decision, senior Russian politician Vladimir Dzhabarov said Russia could respond with its own sanctions and reiterated Moscow’s testimony that there was no concrete evidence to support the allegations.

Extending Existing 2018 Sanctions on Russian Officials

Furthermore, the foreign ministers extended the sanctions against Russian officials, which are in force since March 2018 and due to the murder attempt of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia in England.

Whether sanctions can impress Moscow is a matter of dispute. However, what is certain is that Europe can exercise its influence whenever it appears as a single entity. Economic sanctions, but also those targeting individuals, have had an impact in Russia.

German diplomats hope that the latest decision will also ease the German government’s pressure to cease the German-Russian Nordstream 2 pipeline project in the Baltic Sea. So far, Germany adheres to its view that this economic project and the poisoning are two separate issues.

Long before the Navalny case, the European Parliament including some European Union member states such as Poland and the United States had called for the Nordstream2 not to be completed. Borell emphasized that “one cannot reduce the whole worldview to this unfortunate event with Aleksej Navalny.” The European Union needed to work with Russia due to its role in several geopolitical conflicts.

Tightening Sanctions on Lukashenko of Belarus

The situation is different in the dispute with the Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko. According to Borrell, Belarus’ reluctance to start a dialogue with the opposition instead of utilizing violence against protesters had the European Union react.

The result is a “green light to put together a further package of sanctions” – a package that will also target Lukashenko directly, Borrell announced.

Due to legal and administrative reasons, a few more weeks will pass, and some formal resolutions are necessary before the next sanctions package can come into force. Borrell does not assume that Cyprus or Greece will try to stop or delay the sanctions decisions. In the first round, Cyprus attempted with a veto to enforce sanctions against Turkey. “I believe these structural barriers have now been removed,” Borrell said.

The reasons to impose sanctions on Lukashenko are manifold. However, sanctions are also almost always a double-edged sword. The question arises whether sanctions cease the European Union’s leverage and diminish options. With Lukashenko not on the list, the European Union has the instrument to threaten him to soon be on the list. In diplomacy, threats are sometimes more effective than the actual sanction.

Unlike the US, the UK, and Canada, the European Union had abided by this notion. The fact that Lukashenko had not yet been on the “blacklist” was a message from the EU to Lukashenko, an invitation for the aforementioned dialogue. This offer appears to be off the table now – at least officially.

It's a tough moment
LET'S STAY TOGETHER