Is the European Union united behind the US-led sanctions slapped against Russia in the wake of Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine? Or, is it a divided house?
Observers say that the E U– along with the US, the United Kingdom, and Canada–has slapped s series of economic sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis. A few days back, the EU declared 19 Russian diplomats “personae non-gratae.” In retaliation, Russia, too, has declared 18 employees working at the EU Delegation to Russia `personae non-gratae.` However, the EU is hardly serious about sanctions against Russia. Russia’s oil and natural gas exports are very important for the E U . The EU’s trade with Russia amounts to 80 billion euros.
Within the E U, Germany, one of its most members, is the main opponent of the Russia-specific sanctions. Germany has had very close ties with Russia. Berlin has sought to conduct its Russia policy in a way that would keep Moscow in good humour. In 2008, Germany vetoed NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia. In 2016, when NATO manoeuvred near its eastern flank, Germany decried this. In 2014-2015, the US wanted to arm Ukraine over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But Germany (and France) opposed it .
After the Ukrainian crisis erupted, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has never been really tough with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his talk with President Putin early last month, Chancellor Olaf just urged him to end the fighting in Ukraine and open humanitarian corridors. Olaf appeared to be receptive when Putin insisted Kyiv must agree to demilitarize Ukraine, accept Moscow’s sovereignty over Crimea and surrender territory to Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Berlin has taken no hard step against Moscow. It just halted, not cancelled, the pipeline project.
Germany has a different set of important economic interests in Russia. It imports more than half of its gas and coal and a third of its oil from Russia. In view of this, Berlin constantly wants to keep Moscow in good humour. After Russia launched its operation in Ukraine in February this year, Chancellor Scholz did pledge to reverse Germany’s pro-Putin policies. But he is already backtracking now.
Chancellor Scholz seems to be for continuing former his predecessors Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel’s policy of establishing close ties with Russia. It may be recalled that Schröder ratified the Nord Stream deal. Merkel carried it forward. She extended unwavering support for the Nord Stream project. She ceremonially unveiled its first pipeline in 2011. In 2015, Merkel decided to greenlight the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier seems to be supportive of Russia. Steinmeier was a foreign minister in two of Merkel’s cabinets. Also, there are some other important officials, who are expected to be supportive of Russia. Jens Plötner, former chief of staff to Foreign Minister Steinmeier, is now a national security advisor to Chancellor Scholz. Christoph Heusgen, Merkel’s Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2021, has been tipped to be the chairman of the Munich Security Conference. Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s spokesman, has been tipped to be the German Ambassador to Israel.
( The author is a New Delhi-based journalist )