Finland blocks entry into force of EU sanctions, gravely threatening prospects for peace in Ukraine

UPDATE (September 10, 2014)

“Trotz Beschluss gegen Russland: EU drückt sich vor Sanktionen; Die Europäische Union zögert die angekündigten Strafmaßnahmen gegen Russland im Ukraine-Konflikt weiter hinaus. Einige Staaten wollen den wackeligen Frieden im Osten des Landes nicht gefährden. Doch Berlin drängt zu schnellem Handeln, Der Spiegel, 10. september 2014 (20:46 Uhr).

Accoding to Der Spiegel, above all Finland has pushed for the sanctions not to be made effective:

Nach Angaben von Diplomaten habe vor allem Finnland darauf gedrungen, die neuen Sanktionen noch nicht wirksam zu machen, um die vereinbarte Waffenruhe zwischen der Ukraine und Russland nicht zu gefährden. Die Beratungen der 28 Staaten sollen am Donnerstag fortgesetzt werden. Ein EU-Vertreter sagte der Nachrichtenagentur AFP, dass dabei auch die veränderte Lage in der umkämpften Ostukraine neu bewertet würde.

Latest developments

(1) Juhana Rossi, “Finland Feels EU Should Go Slow on Russia Sanctions; New Russia Sanctions Were Adopted by EU, But Timing for Implementation Still Undecided,” Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2014 (2:50 p.m. ET).

(2) “Krieg in der Ukraine: EU schiebt härtere Sanktionen gegen Russland auf,” Sueddeutscher Zeitung, 9. September 2014 (07:12 Uhr).

“Bedenkzeit für Moskau: Die EU will den Druck auf Russland wegen der Ukraine-Krise erhöhen – doch nicht sofort. Der russische Präsident Putin und sein ukrainischer Amtskollege Poroschenko nehmen erneut direkten Kontakt auf.

“Die EU verzögert die Anwendung verschärfter Russland-Sanktionen um einige Tage. Das Paket sei aber von den nationalen Regierungen genehmigt worden, heißt es in einer Mitteilung von EU-Ratspräsident Herman Van Rompuy. Die Atempause soll Russland Zeit zum Einlenken im Ukraine-Konlikt geben. Die neuen Maßnahmen sollten “in den nächsten paar Tagen” in Kraft treten, schreibt Van Rompuy. “Dies wird (uns) Zeit geben für eine Beurteilung der Umsetzung der Waffenstillstands-Vereinbarung und des Friedensplans.” Mit Blick auf die Situation vor Ort – also in der Ostukraine – sei die EU bereit, “die vereinbarten Sanktionen ganz oder teilweise noch einmal zu überdenken”. Nach Angaben eines Diplomaten sollen die EU-Botschafter am Mittwoch wieder über die Lage beraten.”

(3) Jan Strupczewski and Adrian Croft, “UPDATE 2-EU delays enforcing new Russia sanctions” Reuters, September 9, 2014 (2:04 a.m IST).

(4) Andrew Rettman, “EU sanctions on Russia in limbo,” euobserver, September 9, 2014 (09:27). Rettman names Finland and also Italy as opposing immediarte entry into force.

(5) LUCÍA ABELLÁN / RODRIGO FERNÁNDEZ (Bruselas / Moscú), “UE aprueba las sanciones a Moscú pero las aplaza en plena tregua; Los Veintiocho ponen en marcha una nueva ronda de castigos, pero pactan que sean reversibles; Poroshenko dice que los rebeldes han liberado a 1.200 prisioneros,”El Pais,
8 SEP 2014 – (21:24 CEST).

(6) Lawrence Norman (Brussels), “Ukraine Presses EU on New Russia Sanctions; New Sanctions Will Target State-Owned Russian Firms and Ban The Export of Additional Goods,” Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2014 (10:23 a.m. ET). Juhanna Rossi in Helsinki contributed to this article.

Finland Reportedly blocks implementation of New EU Sanctions Against Russia

We knew that the European Union was only as strong as its weakest link.

We now know that its weakest link is Finland.

Finland is not a member of NATO, and had something of a neutral status during the Cold War. One would have thought that after becoming an EU member in 1995, it would have abandoned its neutral stance within the EU.

The great achievement of the EU in the last two weeks has been to request the European Commission to draft written language specifying harsher sanctions, in a document which was to become legally binding after formal approval (usually a mere formality) by EU governments on Monday, September 8, and publication in the Official Gazette of the EU on Tuesday. In other words, the sanctions were to become binding on September 9.

Now the outgoing President of the EU Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has announced that the sanctions have been delayed, but will enter into force “in the next couple of days”.

Van Rompuy’s statement is filled with contradictions, and points toward delays that will far exceed “a couple of days”.

“This will give (us) time to make a judgment regarding the implementation of the ceasefire and the peace plan,” Rompuy said. Looking at the situation on the ground — that is, in the Eastern Ukraine — the EU is ready “to reassess the agreed-upon sanctions once again in whole or in part.” According to a diplomatic source, the Ambassadors to the EU will consult on the situation on Wesdnesday.

To the Observer, these comments sound like smoke and mirrors, in a blatant attempt to obfuscate what is really going on.

Behind Van Rompuy’s statement is what appears to have been a Finnish objection to entry into force of the sanctions on Tuesday. Unanimity among the EU’s members was required when signing the formal document for the sanctions to be immediately published and enter into force.

Though they won’t say it, and are seeking to mask the reality of what is happening behind the scenes, European leaders have in effect moved their decision-making back to a point before the “final” decision on September 5 (to impose the agreed-upon sanctions on Tuesday).

Western resolve has been shaken once again, and the pacifists and appeasers in the EU want to take one more shot at avoiding imposition of the sanctions.

The hard fact is that there will be no way to verify whether Putin is implementing the peace process provisions of the Minsk agreement, precisely because it establishes a process for the taking of a number of steps. Van Rupuy and the EU ambassadors will have to rely on Putin’s promises instead.

See “Pacifists and appeasers in EU delay entry into force of new sanctions, undermining hard actions which produced Minsk ceasefire and peace process agreement,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2014.

It is logically and physically impossible that these steps can be taken in the next few days. This means, that if Finland and the other pacifists and appeasers among the leaders of the EU countries can succeed in delaying entry into force of the new sanctions, the whole EU decision of September 5 becomes a fiction and falls apart.

The pacifism and appeasement that is so deeply ingrained in European and American leaders amounts to defeatism, a belief in the weakness of NATO, the EU and the U.S. and their allies, and the inability of their combined economic and military power to contain Putin’s military aggression, without surrendering to him significant concessions and territorial gains achieved through military conquest.

The Minsk agreement for a ceasefire and establishment of a process for achieving peace in the Ukraine was a significant achievement — on paper.

We can thank Finland for putting it all at risk.

If the ceasefire and the peace process established by the Minsk agreement collapse, it will clearly be the fault of Finland. That is quite a way for the heirs of the courageous Finns who fought Russia so valiantly in the 1939-1940 “Winter War” to now go down in history, in 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.