Crisis with Russia Testing E.U.'S Foreign Policy Role

By James Kanter; Alan Cowell | International New York Times, July 26, 2014 | Go to article overview

Crisis with Russia Testing E.U.'S Foreign Policy Role


James Kanter; Alan Cowell, International New York Times


As it considers sanctions against Russia, the E.U. faces questions about its role in foreign policy.

As it pushed forward with efforts to coalesce around tougher sanctions against Russia, the European Union was drawing up lists of oligarchs who are close to President Vladimir V. Putin, working out how it could limit Russian access to European financial markets and studying the risks of Russia responding by limiting Europe's energy supplies.

But hanging over those specifics in the past week was a bigger question: Can the 28-member bloc reconcile competing national interests, directly confront a conflict on its own borders and prove that it has a meaningful and united role to play in foreign policy?

More than any other recent crisis, Russia's incursion into Ukraine and all that has followed -- including the July 17 downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet over territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists -- has highlighted the glacial pace of decision making within the European Union. And it has given impatient critics, in the United States and elsewhere, additional reason to complain that Europe as a group is unwilling to take strong stands even when confronted with a clear case for action.

The European bureaucracy ground forward a bit on Thursday, as ambassadors from the member nations met to draw up a list of Russian individuals, companies and entities who could be targets of a new round of sanctions. Those entities were likely to include the self- declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, according to European Union officials.

The ambassadors were also discussing ways of identifying targets of potential sanctions among Mr. Putin's inner circle, but officials said those names might not be agreed upon until the coming week at the earliest.

At the same time, officials from the policy-making European Commission sent the bloc's member governments a roadmap for even broader sanctions, eagerly awaited by the Obama administration, that could target entire sectors of the Russian economy -- such as restricting Europeans from doing business with Russian-controlled banks, limiting sales of technologies needed for its crucial energy industry and restricting the sale of equipment that could have military uses. Such sweeping measures would be available as a response from Europe if Moscow blocks independent inquiries into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and fails to prevent arms supplies across its border with Ukraine.

The outcome of the unfolding effort to marshal a more muscular response is still unclear. …

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