Sanctions against Russia begin to take effect

  • 2014-03-21
  • Staff and wire reports, RIGA

Earlier this week, U.S.officials repeatedly assured Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Andrejs Pildegovics of the United States' unwavering position regarding Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), reports LETA.

During political consultations in Washington from March 17 to March 19, Pildegovics met with high-ranking U.S.officials to discuss the current developments in Ukraine and their impact on the situation in the entire region, as well as to review security policy matters and Latvia-U.S. bilateral relations.

At Pildegovics' meetings with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns and Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, Karen Donfried, the parties evaluated the events in Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and solutions to prevent further escalation. The U.S.officials reiterated the invariable position of the United States regarding Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The talks addressed concrete steps to enhance the NATO presence in the Baltic region, through increasing not only airspace patrolling but also other types of military presence.

The parties recognized that the issue of reducing energy dependence and the need to diversify energy supplies was a matter of strategic importance. They were in agreement that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks should be concluded within the shortest term possible, to expand the significance of transatlantic economic contacts and create a joint economic and political bloc of the European Union and the United States. Other topics discussed were possibilities for closer cooperation with the EU's Eastern Partnership countries and the signing of the Association Agreement with Ukraine and, in a more distant future, with Moldova and Georgia.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said after a meeting with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins in Vilnius on Wednesday, March 19, "Under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, we will respond, we will respond to any aggression against a NATO ally."

High price for Russia

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said on March 20 at the meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron that the European Council has to send a message to Russia that the price to pay for violating the international law and military occupation of neighbors is high, reported Postimees Online.

Anisp said at the meeting with Estonian, Latvian, Swedish and Danish prime ministers and the Lithuanian president before the European Council meeting that it is important that the European Commission was given the task of compiling third degree measures. "The European Union has already stopped visa dialogue and new framework agreement talks and implemented visa bans and freezing of assets against persons who acted against Ukraine's territorial integrity. Next, economic measures have to be worked on."

The Estonian prime minister said that helping Ukraine is a clear priority for us and the plan of the European Commission on granting additional financial aid amounting to up to 1 billion euros is excellent.

Cornered for centuries

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an hour-long address on March 18 to both chambers of the Russian parliament after his annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. Putin said, in defense of his actions, that the country had been “cornered for centuries” but could not be bullied any more, reported the Financial Times on March 19.

The Russian president directed his anger at the West, saying that “What happened in Ukraine reflects the situation that unfolded in the entire world: After the bipolar world broke down [after the Soviet Union’s collapse], [the] U.S.decided to use strong-arm politics. They think they have been entrusted by God.”

“Russia, just like any other country, has its national interests which you need to respect,” he added.

Putin said that at the heart of Russia’s interests was keeping Nato at bay, and that it should not come any closer.

Nonetheless, this sentiment does not give Russia the right to invade its neighbor.

The U.S.has called this a “naked land grab.” In addition to sanctions against Russia that have now been put in place, the Financial Times has urged further action, if Russian aggression continues. EU leaders must therefore make clear that military intervention in eastern Ukraine would trigger wide-ranging economic sanctions, and credible action.

Russia commonly uses the excuse that the West acts similarly, bringing up Kosovo as an example.

Martin Wolf writing in the Financial Times on March 19 says, however, “Russia complains that extension of Nato to its borders is an outrage. But Nato does not annex countries. Russia’s behavior stoked the desire of its erstwhile possessions to join Nato.”

Russians themselves need to ask why their neighbors look to the West for security.

Wolf says that in signing the EU association agreement, part of which was done on March 21, would help start cleansing the “Augean stable of corruption” that Ukraine represented, and that this cleansing needs to be a condition for EU assistance.

Russia’s revanchism has to be stopped, even for Russia’s own sake, says Wolf. A stable and democratic Ukraine is not hostile to Russian’s true longer-term interests. The starting point has to be helping Ukraine, ideally with Russian cooperation, but without it if necessary.

This is war

Latvia’s National Armed Forces Commander Raimonds Graube said in an interview on March 19 on the LNT news program ‘900 Seconds’ that the events in Ukraine has made him come to the conclusion that what is happening in the country can be deemed as war.

According to Graube, what is taking place in Ukraine is different from traditional warfare, as different methods are being used, but that at the end of the day military units are being used to occupy another country's territory.

''Ten years ago, Latvia made one of the most important decisions it has ever made by joining NATO. I cannot even imagine a situation where a foreign force could so easily enter and occupy a NATO member,'' Graube said.

The AFP news agency reports that Ukraine warned on Tuesday its conflict with Russia had entered a "military stage" and authorized its troops to shoot in self-defense after both sides suffered their first casualties since pro-Kremlin forces seized Crimean early three weeks ago.

The dramatic escalation to the raging security crisis on the EU's eastern frontier came hours after President Putin signed a treaty claiming Crimea as Russian territory after the Black Sea region overwhelmingly voted in favor of switching from Ukrainian to Kremlin rule.

Ukraine's Western-backed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that "Russian soldiers have started shooting at Ukrainian military servicemen, and that is a war crime.”

Start with sanctions

European Parliament members from the parliament's foreign affairs and international trade committees sent a letter this week to top EU officials, saying that ''We are all in agreement that the EU must take a much stronger stance in this emergency situation. Sanctions must be imposed against not only a few Russian officials, but also officials from the Russian president's administration and the Russian parliament, as well as their families.”

The MEPs point out that by imposing stronger political and diplomatic sanctions, which would be felt by not only officials, but also their families; it might be possible, though, to avoid economic sanctions if Russian changes its stance.

The letter also urges that a complete weapons embargo against Russiaalso be implemented.

On this note, the Latvian Defense Ministry and the National Armed Forces have agreed to suspend military cooperation with Russia, said Defense Ministry spokesman Andis Jekabsons.

Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis said that ''In evaluating Russia's actions, as well as calls by the international community to solve the situation through diplomacy, it is unacceptable for Latvia to cooperate with the Russian armed forces.”

On March 20, the European Union added 12 Russians and Ukrainians to a list of people hit with travel bans and asset freezes over developments in Crimea, EU President Herman Van Rompuy told a press conference. The 12 new names, due to be published Friday, include some "really high-ranking" individuals, said Van Rompuy.

The bloc also cancelled a planned June 3 summit with Russia.

End game on Kiev

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that, in terms of his play for influence in Ukraine, Putin’s goals “know few bounds. I’m pretty convinced that his real agenda is not Crimea, but Kiev.”

“I think he is prepared to use both economic measures, subversion, destabilizing issues, [and] economic issues – but at the end of the day what we have seen during the last few weeks is that he is also prepared to use military instruments. And that is what is scary and what is deeply worrying.”

It may not happen immediately, Bildt said, but Putin is “prepared to play this long.”

On Friday morning Germany said it had decided to suspend approval of all defense-related exports to Russia, reported Berlin ordered defense contractor Rheinmetall to halt delivery of combat simulation gear to Russia earlier this week already.

The ministry spokesman said this was a "one-off" case, but future deals would also be blocked.

"The [Rheinmetall] case is a one-off case. Nevertheless it is true that given the current situation in Russia, we are not approving any exports of defense goods to this country at the moment," a spokesman said.

Russia has in a very short time has succeeded in shattering the long post-WWII European peace. The West will ratchet up the sanctions in an attempt to bring Putin and his inner circle to the negotiating table.

What needs to be done now is to de-escalate the situation and get all sides to the negotiating table. Some have suggested that Ukraine agree to the annexation of Crimea (it may have little choice), though with full compensation from Russia for military and business assets it has confiscated.

Any deal would require withdrawal of Russian armed forces - to demilitarize the peninsula – and provide guarantees for minorities there, and offer a wider security agreement that takes into consideration Russian concerns over Nato expansion, while at the same time ensuring Ukraine’s security against any future Russian aggression.