Fighting in eastern Ukraine intensifies, as implementation of Minsk Protocol stalls; future of EU sanctions regime in doubt

Revised January 14, 2014

See

Frontline, “Putin’s Way”, PBS, January 13, 2015 (on Putin’s rise to power and the nature of the Russian dictatorship he leads).

Oliver Carroll, “Ukraine crisis: Fighting in Donetsk between army and Russian-backed rebels at highest level for months,” The Independent, January 12, 2015

The EU foreign office is reportedly working on a paper which discusses the option of lifting some sanctions against Russia in exchange for significant progress on implementation of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014, leaving in place sanctions specifically aimed at the Crimea.

This is a hare-brained idea that would in effect accept the Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea. It is just what one might expect from the socialist-dominated leadership of the European Union, and the foreign office now headed by Italian socialist Federica Mogherini, a protege of Italian socialist prime minister Matteo Renzi.

It now seems likely that the EU sanctions regime against Russia will begin to fall apart in March.

In the implementation of the EU foreign ministers decision of September 5, 2014, during what is usually a purely procedural matter where each country must sign off on the final text, Finland appears to have balked, and with others called for a reexamination of the decision in the light of “progress” made in implementing the Minsk Protocol of September 5.

Though the decision very nearly fell apart, it didn’t, and came into force when it was published in the Journal Officiel of the EU on September 12.

The events of that week were revealing, however.

The EU sanctions against Russia were not adopted to remain in force until lifted, but rather require a unanimous vote of all 28 member states to be renewed beyond their initial term of one year. Decisions to extend the sanctions will be coming up between March and September.

While setting up the sanctions in this manner may have seemed necessary to gain unanimous approval, it has turned out to be a huge strategic mistake.

Putin has made great inroads in dividing the countries of Europe on the issue of sanctions. At this juncture, absent extraordinary efforts by leaders of the West, it seems likely that the EU sanctions regime may begin to fall apart, beginning as early as March.

In the end, the pacifists and appeasers in Europe are likely to carry the day.

It will be extraordinarily important, if this occurs, for America to pick up the slack in the response of the West to Putin’s militarism and aggression in the Ukraine.

To do so, the Obama administration will have to overcome the lobbying by big business for the U.S. not to adopt any sanctions beyond those the E.U. has adopted, on the theory it would put U.S. businesses at a comparative disadvantage.

The U.S. does have powerful weapons at its disposal. For example, it could eliminate all access of Russian companies to even short-term financing (currently allowed up to 30 days), and could bar Russian entities from using the SWIFT system for the transfer of international funds and payments.

The U.S. should prepare to take these and other actions, while joining with European leaders such as Angela Merkel in calling for the sanctions–all of them–to be upheld and extended beginning in March.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an 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. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), 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, The Observer 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. The Observer 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.), 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, The Observer 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 the best articles that have appeared in the blog.