Russian Roulette

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In Sanctions Fight With Russia, European Union Blinks

putin-blue-AP-CHANGED
Guess my next move.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Russian retaliation to E.U. sanctions might including banning airlines like Lufthansa from flying over Russia to Asia.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The European Union has put harsher economic sanctions against Russia on hold for the time being.
    • The new sanctions, even if they are effective, likely won’t convince Moscow to change strategy in Ukraine, the author argues.
    • The West must not buckle to Russian agression. Freedom does not come for free, the writer concludes.
  • Audio

    Audio

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One of Herbert Grönemeyer’s songs is called “What’s the Point of That?”

In the melody, the German rock-pop musician sings about spurned love and separation pains.

The European economy is going through something similar in its relationship with Russia. Why suffer a massive trade slump if the politically declared goal of the imposed sanctions – pressuring the Russian leadership to cease its aggression against Ukraine – won’t be attained?

This question is popular in the European Union, especially in its smaller and harder-hit member countries. And so Brussels has hit the brakes for now: The agreed-upon sharper economic sanctions have been shelved.

One can take a reading of the sanction conditions daily in the display windows of Moscow banks: New penalties threaten, the exchange rate of the ruble might collapse.

But Brussels flinched. Russian financial institutions and oil companies have breathing room.

The European Union wants to give Russia time to see whether a fragile cease-fire leads to an acceptable peace in Ukraine.

It probably won’t, so harsher sanctions are likely to be imposed soon. That there will be no direct influencing of the Kremlin through further sanctions should be clear to all. However, the economic consequences of the penalties for Russia are enormous: The Russian economy and Russian citizens will suffer more than Germans and their companies.

One should also not be fooled about that, even as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia threatens retaliation such as the withdrawal of Western airlines’ flyover rights for short Siberian routes to Japan. That the defense of values – changing national boundaries only by mutual consent – won’t come without cost must be clear to everyone.

“Why did you not at least warn me?” the Grönemeyer song asks. Politically, the warning has been issued. However, up to now, it hasn’t been emphasized strongly enough that freedom isn’t for free.

This article was translated by Anna Park Kim. Vinny Kuntz also contributed to the story. Contact the author: brueggmann@handelsblatt.com

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