Crimea Sanctions: Europe Should Impose Stiffer Penalties

A Commentary by

A pipeline delivering Russian natural gas to Europe. Zoom
AP

A pipeline delivering Russian natural gas to Europe.

Germany has said it wants to take on greater responsibility in foreign policy -- and the Crimea crisis offers a golden opportunity to do so. Berlin should impose tougher penalties against Russia, even if it would hurt the German economy.

"Freedom isn't free." This bit of wisdom is one that American patriots are fond of slapping onto their back bumpers. But there is something to it. The fight for political convictions always comes with a price. Yet it appears to be one that German managers and corporate leaders are uninterested in paying.

E.on head Johannes Teyssen warned against endangering "very responsible policies toward the East" in an interview with SPIEGEL this week. Rainer Lindner, head of Germany's Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, fears that "sanctions will certainly trigger counter-sanctions" -- as if effective penalties could ever be free of charge.

The concerns expressed by Germany's business community are understandable. But the government in Berlin should ignore them just the same. In addition to the travel bans and frozen accounts already imposed by the EU -- punitive actions that are essentially symbolic in nature -- Europe should also levy more significant economic sanctions against Russia. It is a question of credibility. Not doing so is tantamount to Germany and the EU saying: "You know what Mr. Putin? The Crimea isn't actually that important to us after all."

Led by German President Joachim Gauck, Berlin only recently demanded that the country take on more responsibility in the world. Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear early on that military intervention in the Crimea crisis isn't an option. That makes sense. But what other alternatives could Europe pursue?

The economic lever is all that's left. Russia is highly dependent on imports from the EU, particularly from Germany. But even more painful than a reduction of European exports to Russia would be a moratorium on EU natural gas and oil imports from Russia, or at least a credible threat from Brussels that it was prepared to do so. Russia and Putin's military machine, after all, are reliant on income generated by energy exports.

It would not be an easy step to take. But the difference could be compensated for via oil and natural gas deliveries from other sources. It is, of course, undeniable that such a step would drive up energy prices in Germany and the rest of the European Union. Economic growth, already weak, would suffer. But if we Germans are serious about taking on more foreign policy responsibility, then we also have to be prepared to pay the requisite price.

Translated from the German by Charles Hawley

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1. Freedom isn't free
ivn 03/18/2014
It is very comfortable to place on back bumpers so cool message. Especially when the price is payed by somebody else, Europe for example. Please, try to draw the same picture, as in article, but about usa-russia relations. You will be surprised how small numbers are there, and they are decreasing every year. So when usa calls europe to be strong and united in sanctions question, simply remember they pay the lowest price for freedom.
2. Time to get out NATO
henke.lindholm 03/18/2014
Sanctions will harm Germany badly, very one. The truth is Germany cannot afford it, especially not when the EU struggling to find money for the bankrupt Kiev and would not be able to cover the loss of income. Without money to Ukraine, it will fragment. Furthermore anybody paying attention, with the exception of the US administration, along with the neo-cons imbedded in their government, could see this coming from a mile away. For whatever reason, the US and NATO, is pursuing a policy of encirclement of Russia by systematically enlisting former Soviet republics in the alliance. Ukraine was the last straw where Russian vested interests were threatened given this is the location of their only warm water naval port in Crimea. Adding Ukraine to the EU and then likely NATO was not going to be allowed to happen. Then the coup d'tat that ran the former president out of the country (that the US considers this action 'legal' but not the 'vote and the will of the people' in Crimea should bring the term double-standard into the discussion) gave Putin the cover story he needed as justification to make his move. I suspect Putin is prepared to handle whatever 'sanctions' get thrown his way here since he appears to always be one or two steps ahead in the game. And if this is as far as it goes we can expect tensions to cool over time as the meddlers move on to stir up trouble in another part of the world. It's time to Germany get out away from NATO soon and become neutral like Switzerland, such penalties and interest games between US and Russia can harm us.
3. optional
spon-facebook-10000061525 03/18/2014
Actually the west needs to set a example for Russia, and not to make an example out of Russia. The annexation of Crimea will only work against Putin in the long term, because he has a huge country to manage with 60 000 km of borders to maintain, over 200 ethnic groups and numerous separatist movements. History has shown that huge countries cannot be kept together without democracy and the rule of law, and often dictatorships are enforced through violence and end up in violence. So Putin is actually Russia's worst enemy
4. The blackmail by Putin, with gas and oil, is self-made
Inglenda2 03/18/2014
The economic concerns expressed by Germany's are understandable and the government in Berlin will certainly not ignore them, because both of the main parties in power are totally under the influence of business lobbyists. The cries that went up, as China ordered armed tanks to drive over its own people demonstrating for democracy, also turned out to be nothing but hot wind. Where profits are concerned, there is not one established political party which would put human rights first. As for the German President Joachim Gauck, his demand that the country take on more responsibility in the world is to be treated with suspicion. He and those around him, do not even hold themselves accountable for the negative frame of mind which they have caused within the German community.
5. strange logic
dr_ebil 03/18/2014
When we discuss enviromental, social, moral etc. standards, jobs matter often more. "But the jobs! ... they are so important." Even, if we do not talk about a insignificant number of jobs. Like manufacturing land mines, which dismember and kill many innocent people every year, but the jobs, they are very important. Politicians even "save" jobs, when everybody tells to not do so, i.e. pay to GM randsom money for Opel, when everybody already knew, GM will close Opel anyways. Now, when we "have to" punish evil Russians for taking "our" Crimea, neither jobs nor costs matter that much anymore. Appr. 300000 Jobs - doesnt matter. German tax payers paying interest for bonds of more and more of EU brankrupty candidates like Greece and Portugal - doesnt matter. Not enough money for infrastructure and social programs in Germany? Bad luck, times are harsh and we have to cut down public budgets. But suddenly there is money to help the Ukraine join the EU. No real money of course, the EU budget for this year is already set. The EU borrows money from investors like George Soros and payes them interest. New depts and new addiction. Interesting priorities. Most likely not the priorities of the German voters and tax payers. Nobody cares about them in international transatlantic relations between Berlin, Brussels and Washington anyways. Btw. Fracking would be bad for the enviroment in Germany, bring competition for Gazprom in short term and most likely make some US fracking companies richer. Sounds like a good plan for these guys. Next great idea: TTIP - American mega-coporations will become a little richer by lowering higher standards in other countries like Germany. And the rest of the story we know already. How long do these guys think, they can play this game? ps: as always in the German part of the forum these kind of articles face harsh critics. So the impression we have might here in the English section for English only speakers - is not real.
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Graphic: German trade with Russia. Zoom
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Graphic: German trade with Russia.

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Graphic: German economic activity in Russia.



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