MOSCOW — As expected, the West reacted poorly to Russia signing an agreement allowing Crimea to join the Russian Federation. But will their threats of consequences really be felt?
“We join Poland and the international community in condemning the continuing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrety,” said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was in Poland at the time. Characterizing Russia’s actions as a “land grab,” he threatened Moscow with sanctions and promised that elements of the European Anti-Ballistic Shield would be in place in Poland no later than 2018 and that the United States would help Poland modernize its army.
British Prime Minister David Cameron likewise warned of serious consequences for Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Western leader Russian President Vladimir Putin most respects, also condemned Moscow’s actions. “Incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation goes against international law,” she said.
During an address earlier this week, Putin expressed hope that the citizens of Germany “would support the people of historical Russia as they strive towards unity,” just as Moscow had supported German unification after the end of the Cold War.
A light touch with sanctions
According to sources close to the U.S. State Department, the United States could announce additional sanctions in the next couple of days, and EU leaders met this week to decide on how to handle Russia in the long term. Sources say the EU is likely to adopt financial and visa sanctions against a long list of Russian officials, and it will cancel events in which Russia was supposed to participate and will freeze certain partnerships with Russia (especially military partnerships).
It’s not certain if they will go so far as to cancel contracts for weapons orders. Paris has already announced that it is prepared to cancel contracts to sell Mistral-class amphibious military ships to Russia, but only if other EU members are willing to undertake equally radical measures.
But according to diplomatic sources in Brussels, it is unlikely that the EU will be able to adopt sanctions against Russia that will seriously hurt the country, as opposed to inflicting damage to its reputation. “It’s not certain that the black list will be as long as originally planned or that it will include oligarchs who are close to the Kremlin,” the source said. “The economic sanctions will not be decided in a matter of days, and no one is going to be rushing to impose them.”
According to this source, the sanctions will be noticeable but limited. “Since Putin has announced that he is not intending to go further than Crimea, there has been no discussion of imposing stricter sanctions, similar to those against Iran,” Kommersant’s source said.
But another source in Brussels said that “people here don’t really trust the word of the President of Russia. He only recently said that he did not see a possibility that Crimea would become part of Russia, and he continues to deny that the ‘little green aliens’ in Crimea are Russian soldiers,” the source said. “Russia has proven to be an unreliable partner, and we will not base our decisions on announcements, but on actions. Serious sanctions are still on the table and could be imposed at any moment.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that “attempts to talk to Russia with threatening language and to threaten Russian citizens” will be fruitless. “It’s time for the EU to understand that the reason for the crisis in Ukraine is not Russia, but the actions of other Ukrainian political powers and their foreign handlers,” the Ministry said.
Its announcement ended with a threat: “We would prefer not to adopt more restrictive measures, but if sanctions are imposed against Russia, we will respond appropriately.”