Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine on Monday evening. This is the first time that Russia has declared that it does not consider Donbass to be part of Ukraine. This could pave the way for Russian troops to be sent to the separatist areas on the grounds that Russia supports the leadership there as an ally against Ukraine. So far, Russia has denied involvement in the conflict over territory in eastern Ukraine and any plans to invade Ukraine.
The European Union now wants to “put its sanctions on the table” – as Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell has already emphasized. According to Brussels, the punitive measures prepared with the USA and other western partners could be triggered quickly. The US has also announced sanctions against separatist areas in eastern Ukraine.
The EU sees the recognition of the “People’s Republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk, controlled by pro-Russian separatists, as a breach of international law and the Minsk agreements. The Europeans fear a Russian “annexation” of the territories, as EU foreign policy chief Borrell said after the foreign ministers’ consultations in Brussels.
The EU has prepared far-reaching economic and financial sanctions, which Borrell says can be implemented “in stages depending on the level of aggression”. According to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, they should “affect all goods that Russia urgently needs to modernize and diversify its economy”. According to EU diplomats, the focus is on the Russian coal, oil and gas sectors.
Von der Leyen said on ARD that the sanctions would “practically cut Russia off (…) from international financial markets”. Von der Leyen left open whether this also includes the exclusion from the Swift international payment system. Experts warn that such a move could also affect European banks and trade with Russia in general. It is considered possible that only part of the Russian payment flows will be blocked via Swift.
Sanctions will probably mean the end for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stressed that in the event of an attack on Ukraine, the natural gas pipeline from Russia to East Germany would not go into operation. The USA has already imposed punitive measures against companies or individuals involved in the past. The EU says that no Russian gas can flow through the pipeline for the time being anyway.
In Brussels, it is considered likely that energy prices will continue to skyrocket – for example if Russia retaliates with gas deliveries. According to media reports, compensation payments for sectors or countries that would be hit particularly hard are under discussion in the EU.
Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the EU has imposed sanctions on Russia several times, but President Putin has not been impressed. Entry bans and bank accounts are currently in place against 185 Russians and Ukrainians as well as 48 companies and organizations. Economic sanctions are also aimed at Russian state banks and the oil and gas industry. There is also an arms embargo.
A special summit of heads of state and government is likely to be convened to decide on the sanctions.