The European Union has agreed to delay sanctions against Russia while it awaits peace talks regarding the Ukrainian conflict. On Monday, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) agreed to expand existing sanctions to cover 19 more individuals and nine additional entities. However, they decided that the sanctions would take effect next week only if further talks in Minsk are ineffective.
If further sanctions are to be avoided, European Union officials have agreed that the Minsk plan of 2014 must be fully implemented. This would involve Russian forces pulling back from Ukrainian territory and securing the borders, resulting in limited autonomy for east Ukraine. All of this would be overseen by international monitors to ensure full compliance. If Russia does not agree to the plan, the agreed on individuals and non-commercial entities will be blacklisted effective February 16.
The blacklist, which includes such high-profile figures as Russian deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov, was decided with consultation by Ukrainian officials. In light of the recent escalation of the conflict and the United States’ changing position on supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine, most MEPs are eager to embrace any possible diplomatic solution. According to British Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond, they are trying to send “a signal that we value the political process.”
However, not all representatives of the European Union agree that the sanctions are effective. Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands agree that sanctions are working, but Greece and Spain are raising concerns about their efficacy and financial implications for the Union. The Cypriot president defended his decision to allow Russia to use ports and airports to evacuate from violent areas of the Middle East. He will visit Moscow at the end of the month.
While European Union officials are hopeful that delaying sanctions while they await the Ukrainian peace talks will be effective in coming to a diplomatic solution, they are also preparing for the worst. They maintain somewhat skeptical of Russian promises and are worried by increasing anti-Western sentiments in Russia. A recent poll by the Levada Center reveals that 81 percent of Russians have a negative opinion of the U.S. while 71 percent have hostile feelings toward Europe.
The European Parliament is extremely worried that should the talks in Minsk fail, the U.S. will decide to supply arms to Ukrainian forces. Leaders fear that this would cause an increase in anti-Western sentiment and a further escalation of the conflict. It may also lead to an arms race between Ukraine and Russia.
Most European leaders are urging the U.S. to act with consideration for its European allies. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that “an economic and military conflict in Ukraine is something that affects Europe in a much stronger way than the U.S.” The option to send arms to Ukraine remains a very real possibility for the United States if the talks in Minsk fail. President Obama said on Monday that several different options are under consideration.
The European Union’s decision to await Ukrainian peace talks in Minsk and delay further sanctions could prove to be the turning point in finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis. World leaders remain cautiously optimistic. While preparing for the worst, they are making an opportunity for the crisis to be resolved without further bloodshed.
By Kirstin Pinto