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The European Union today announced sanctions on an additional 15 individuals for their roles in the Ukraine crisis. The move comes on the heels of additional US sanctions and reflects deepening Western concerns over instability in eastern Ukraine. However, critics say the latest sanctions fail to target Russia's finance and energy industries – or its head of state, President Vladimir Putin.
The newest EU sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes for a number of high-ranking Russian political and military officials and pro-Russian militants in Ukraine. Tuesday’s additions bring the total number of people on the EU list up to 48, reports The Associated Press.
“I am alarmed by the worsening security situation in eastern Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said today. “The downward spiral of violence and intimidation undermines the normal functioning of the legitimate state institutions.”
Ms. Ashton said the EU could consider “possible additional individual measures,” but that it would depend on how the situation in Ukraine developed.
Russia has an estimated 40,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. Pro-Russian activists occupy buildings in over a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine and have detained seven European military observers in Slovyansk, the BBC reports. On Monday, the mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by an unknown gunman, reports The New York Times.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in an hour-long telephone conversation this week “that Moscow has no plans to invade Ukraine,” according to the US Department of Defense.
Some US officials believe Russia “is already showing signs of significant economic pain, with capital fleeing, investment falling and its debt downgraded to the brink of junk bonds,” according to The Washington Post.
The goal is to gradually increase pressure until “Russia sees the dead end that it’s going down in Ukraine,” a senior administration official said.
“We don’t expect there would be an immediate change in Russian policy[.]” … “What we need to do is to steadily show the Russians that there are going to be much more severe economic pain, much more severe political isolation and, frankly, that Russia stands far more to lose, continuing these actions over time,” than if it stands down in Ukraine.
But many observers say Western sanctions lack bite and should focus on industry more than individuals. Many EU nations are highly dependent on Moscow for oil and gas supplies, which makes the bloc hesitant to target directly the likes of state-run energy company, Gazprom.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that despite criticism at home, Obama sees sanctions "as ineffective and damaging to US economic interests if not imposed in coordination with the European Union. The EU is a much bigger player in the Russian economy than the US, but so far European leaders have balked at going beyond sanctions on Russian individuals."
Steve LeVine from Quartz agrees that targeting industry such as Russia’s state-run Gazprom could have a bigger impact on the situation in Ukraine, but for reasons that go beyond economic pain. Mr. LeVine writes that President Vladimir Putin’s “primary pressure point” is his mission to achieve “historical glory.”
[Targeting Gazprom] would threaten Putin’s actual pressure point: the oil that is Russia’s lifeblood. Putin is able to behave ruthlessly – to appear strong, regal, and ultra-patriotic to his people – only because of Russia’s oil and gas exports, which fund half the state budget. To the degree you can threaten energy, you are getting somewhere.