Debate: Russian Sanctions on

Debate: Russian Sanctions on
  • Dear Ms Toom and Mr Cartwright, many thanks for your participation in this debate.

    This topic is very important, because whilst most are sure there is no military option to deter Russian aggression, economic restrictive measures of the international community against Russia can be a very effective tool to continue pressure on Putin’s regime.

    As we know, the EU leaders and the European Council clearly connect the sanctions against Russia with the Minsk agreements implementation process. As such, I definitely believe Russia is not going to fulfill its international obligations and will continue its aggression in Ukraine.


    My first question is direct and clear. What do you think concerning the EU’s possible decision in the sanctions policy? Should the EU extend economic restrictive measures against Russia after the 31 July?

  • Unless Russia withdraws from the illegal annexation of Crimea, and ceases its active support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the sanctions absolutely should remain in place.

    For the EU to show any lack of resolve in this issue will be interpreted by Moscow as a sign of weakness.

  • I would not like to start the debate in terms of "weakness" or "strength". Politicians must be rational and their proposals ought to be realistic. In the case of sanctions, the main focus of the debate might be our objectives. In other words, we need to decide if the EU sanctions imposed against Russia can help us to reach our objectives, considering the fact that we pay a lot for these sanctions and Russia's counter-sanctions.


    First, Crimea. I hardly believe that we can return Crimea to Ukraine, at least in the short-term and mid-term perspective. The peninsula was made part of Russia for purely military reasons. There will be no changes in the status of Crimea if there are no changes in the balance of military forces in the region.


    Second, Eastern Ukraine. What is at stake? Implementation of the Minsk Agreement? But Russia is very interested in it. In fact, the main objective of the Minsk Agreement is federalisation of Ukraine. Putin wanted it from the very beginning of the crisis.  Furthermore, Minsk's failure can be attributed in part to Kiev.
  • Sanctions alone will not help us to reach our objectives, that is clear.

    However, economic sanctions are the tool that the EU has chosen to use. Undermining those sanctions therefore becomes a priority for the Kremlin in its ultimate goal of undermining the EU itself.

    Regarding the Minsk Agreement, Kyiv is not blameless, certainly. But we should understand that it is not so easy to make concessions in an effort to resolve a conflict when it is your own country that has been invaded and occupied by your interlocutor.

    Russia, of course, does not have a particularly good record of honouring obligations that it has voluntarily entered into under international agreements, so expectations were never high in that respect.

  • Do you see other means or tools that the EU could use in order to keep pressure on Russia?

  • Generally speaking, with a few obvious exceptions the EU member states are militarily weak, and highly reluctant to engage, and so that would be a very dangerous path to follow. 

    The EU is also becoming increasingly fractured politically, and so diplomatic clout is lacking.

    The Yukos judgement, which would have allowed for the seizure of Russian state assets in the EU (and elsewhere) was overturned in the Hague a few days ago, which deprives us of another tool. 

    It is difficult to see any other option but to maintain, and if necessary, to widen and deepen the sanctions.

  • I have the impression that the first two lines of your answer highlight the absurdist character of the sanction policies: "Sanctions alone will not help us to reach our objectives, However, economic sanctions are the tool that the EU has chosen to use".

    In other words, many politicians have to defend sanctions because this is a choice once made.
  • Other than sanctions, what action would you have suggested the EU should take in response to the Russian aggression?

  • How do you assess the level of threats from Russia towards Europe in particular against Baltic States, Eastern Europe and the Black sea region?

  • Russian activists are engaged in the Baltic states in agitating the Russian speaking minorities, and have been for some time.

    It was on the pretext of "protecting" such minorities that Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, and then Ukraine. It is a model that has worked well for Putin twice, it will likely work again.

  • Politics is the art of compromises and this art hardly encompasses your "keeping pressure".

    If we need to send clear signals and to change Russia's politics, then the EU may maintain the policy of non-recognition of this international territorial change. This policy was efficient in the case of the Baltic States in the past.

    However, I do not believe that we shall make ordinary inhabitants of the peninsula sufferWe went so far as to punish them for their choice at gunpoint, as many call it. Even under the Soviet regime there were no problems for Estonians or Latvians to receive Western visas. You know that people in Crimea are in fact deprived of the access to the Schengen zone.

    Regretfully, Europe has its skeletons in the closet, I mean Kosovo. It makes our position quite dubious in terms of international law.

    The best way to overcome disagreements is to identify and discuss issues of common interest. Russia is not an exception to this general rule.

  • Regretfully, you are right that Europe is weak in a military sense.

    You have agreed that sanctions may not be always efficient. Could they improve our image in the international community? I do not think so, at least if our objective is to change Kremlin's policies.

    If our objective is to blame these policies, then our message shall be aimed at ordinary Russian inhabitants. However, there are many countries in the world where human rights situation is far worse than in Russia and these countries are our important allies. Cooperation with these allies deprives us of moral advantages and undermines any "moral component" of the sanctions. At the end of the day, everyone loses (not only bad guys).

  • How do you assess the process of the Minsk agreements implementation which is directly connected to the EU’s sanctions regime against Russia?

  • How do I assess the level of threats from Russia?


    Russia is really worried about its national and military security. It does not trust NATO. These fears are behind the 2008 war in South Ossetia and the 2014/2015 events in Ukraine. From the point of view of common European security, NATO enlargement to the East was a mistake that lead to confrontation. I see no easy solution to this problem. At the same time, I see no good reasons why Russia may invade the Baltic States or Eastern European countries. Putin is a very pragmatic politician. He is not a masochist. He also believes that Ukraine and Georgia in NATO become a great threat to Russia. Even if Putin is wrong, he was successful to undermine any NATO prospects for these two countries. In a military sense, the situation might now be frozen. Therefore I do not support any additional NATO activities in the areas of the Baltic and Black Sea. There is a time for diplomacy once guns remain silent.


    Your statement about certain Russian villains in Estonia: I actually live in Estonia and am surprised to read about pro-Russian activists planning an intervention. Even Estonian Security Police (KaPo) have not made such dire prognoses as has my opponent, although they are the last institution that might be suspected of any fondness of Russia or its politics. Perhaps the only proof of Putin's plans of intervention into the Baltic States might be the BBC "documentary" that – in Estonia - was not taken seriously even by the most egregious Russophobes.


    As for the protection of minority rights, in Estonia minority communities lay their hopes on Estonian politicians of non-Estonian ethnic origin. The fact that the Baltic States have Russian-speaking MPs as well as several MEPs, is proof enough that people see and seek solutions to their problems within the European law.
  • To my mind, the main problem with the Minsk-2 is inflated hope that should  be rationally trimmed. This agreement is not a panacea. Furthermore, Kiev seems to oppose it much more passionately than Moscow. As I already told you, Putin is very comfortable with this Agreement. It provides for federalisation of Ukraine and this has been the initial objective of Kremlin in the Ukrainian conflict. And from the formalist point of view, Russia is not a party to the Agreement; it is rather a guarantor. In Ukraine, the Agreement is highly criticized as a text drafted by Kremlin and its implementation will hardly become a major priority for Kiev.


    There are many concerns related to its implementation. First, legalisation of the DNR and LNR, legalisation of their leadership, if not the heads of these self-proclaimed republics. Second, legalisation of local militia which means that Kiev will fund (para)military units that are not under its (direct) control. However, the size of these units will exceed the size of several European armies.  Third, there are concerns that Kiev will not be able to restore efficient control over the Russian-Ukrainian border, in spite of all promises written in the agreement. Fourth, the end of the so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) means the abolishment of the demarcation line with associated risks of smuggling of weapons and other goods.


    All these issues are debated in Ukrainian media but they are hardly raised in talks with European partners. Well, it may also explain the blind faith of Europeans in Minsk. Furthermore, Europeans often forget that Ukraine was compelled to sign this agreement. 


    Obama has recently confirmed that Russia's sanctions can be lifted if the Minsk Agreement is implemented. Even his status of a lame duck does not change anything in this situation. We're all tired of sanctions.
  • You state that "Politics is the art of compromise". In the context of this debate I am not seeing any meaningful evidence of compromise from Mr Putin.

    Marx stated that "conflict is the catalyst for progress". From Mr Putin we see much evidence of his desire for conflict.

  • Dear all, first of all I have to apologise for not answering the questions in time, but due to my schedule its not easy. However, I hope that its possible to follow the flow of our debate.

    As Oscar Wilde once said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So everyone is free to interpret the behaviour of Putin. As a MEP I'm more worried about European ability to engage in a dialogue. Regretfully, no side of the conflict has proven its readiness to engage in constructive and genuine talks.

    We demand fulfillment of certain requirements and we make reference to our unshakable moral superiority.

    From the point of view of ordinary Russians this approach is rather dubious, as I said. We ignore the internal situation in Russia, especially rising Putin’s support. I am not as good in Marxism as my opponent but Russia’s sanctions were – so to speak – beneficial to Putin. For instance, last year in spite of negative economic growth Russia demonstrated increase in agricultural production. Well, sanctions were hardy to push productivity of certain sectors of Russian economy, weren’t they?

    As a result, Crimea remains to be a de facto part of Russia, Ukraine is on the way to federalisation but we are still losing a chance to go back to Russian markets. Furthermore, against such a background Russia is urged to find new foreign trade partners. This is a direct effect of our sanction policies.

  • Ms Toom and Mr Cartwright, thank you again for your participation in our debates. Your opinions are comprehensive and important.


    Do you believe that the Russian President Putin could change his policy in order to lift international sanctions and to restore international order and relations with West?

  • International order and relations can be restored only when the illegal annexation is ended, and Russian troops are withdrawn from Ukrainian territory. It is worth remembering that when Putin invaded and annexed Crimea, he was the first European leader to carry out such a dastardly act against another European country since Adolph Hitler.

  • I would like to address a question to Ms Toom, if I may.

    Do you condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia?

  • I believe, in spite of all the rhetoric Russia is ready and is willing to normalise its relations with the EU and other Western countries. However, sanctions are definitely not an appropriate instrument to change their policies. Just the opposite, sanctions and isolation will mobilize people and they make them support their leaders.

  • I am not as optimistic as my opponent. I do not think that the previous international order and relations may be restored. The world has changed and Putin is not the only person responsible for these developments. We should not forget the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, our invasion of Iraq or awful destiny of Libya. As for argumentum ad Hitlerum, I prefer to avoid declarative statements.

  • Following previous issue I would like to pay you attention on MH17 tragedy. The results of official criminal investigation will be presented soon. How do you think will Putin bear international criminal responsibility for it?

  • I recognise the fact that the incorporation of Crimea into Russia is not in line with international law.

    However, I also have a question to my opponent: as far as I understand you believe that sanctions are necessary and useful. However, would you support the idea to lift sanctions imposed against ordinary people in Crimea? In fact they have no access to Schengen zone and they cannot use their credit cards either because they have submitted to violence, or they have just taken their free-will decision.

    BTW: how would you interpret the behaviour of the Crimean people in 2014?
  • May I repeat my question, will you condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia?

  • I think it is too early to discuss the possibility of criminal responsibility for this tragedy.  We need to wait for the final results of the investigation conducted by competent authorities.

  • The weapons system used to shoot down MH17 was highly sophisticated, and relied on other resources for targeting, etc. This was not the work of so-called separatists. Such a system requires a highly trained team of operators.

  • So it could be done by Ukrainian or Russian Army. Who did it? This is still an open question.

  • Is there Russian lobby in the European Parliament? If yes, how it works? Does Russia sponsor particular political groups in the Parliament and MEP’s?

  • I have to apologize, Im going to plenary, so feel free to ask your questions, I will answer all of them, but later

  • I presume that there is a Russian lobby in the EP. However, I did not come across it. Therefore I cannot comment on their activities.
  • Russia is openly financing Front National, and other parties within Marine Le Pen's Europe and Nations & Freedom Group in the European Parliament. There have also been questions asked about Nigel Farage, co-president of the Europe of Freedom & Direct Democracy group.

    There is no question that certain 'eurosceptic' MEPs have taken cash payments for making pro-Russian statements, and it is possible that parliamentary questions have been paid for as well.

  • Do you support visa liberalisation process for Ukrainian and Georgian citizens? Do you believe that the European Parliament will vote for lifting visa demands for such nationals as soon as possible in June?

    What are the prospects of visa liberalisation for Russian citizens?

  • I believe that the Parliament will support visa liberalisation. Of course the far-right eurosceptic groups, and possibly the GUE (communist) group will vote against, but their numbers are too small to sway the vote.

    Visa liberalisation for Russian citizens should not even be discussed until the Ukraine situation is resolved, and by resolved I mean that Russian troops are removed from Ukrainian territory.

  • Dear Ms Toom and Mr Cartwright, many thanks for your participation in the debates. You answers, comments and opinions are very important in order to continue discussions and to find the best solutions.

  • As regards lifting visa requirements for Russians, there is no political will to achieve this result.


    I think there will be a majority of votes in the EP for visa liberalisation for Ukrainian and Georgian citizens.  Regretfully, most inhabitants of these countries will not be able to visit Europe for purely financial reasons. It is not enough to facilitate the visa regime - the living standards in Georgia and Ukraine shall be made high enough to permit ordinary people to travel in Europe.
  • I would like also to thank you for the interesting debate.

  • Thank you also Ms. Toom, and thank you Andrii, for the chance to debate this very important issue.