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EU sanctions and the failure of the EEAS

Sanctions have become one of the active foreign policy tools of the European Union over the last decades. While the effectiveness of these “soft power” instruments has been a subject of discourse from time to time, the real analysis of its reasons and outcomes still needs to be more explored.

The European Union imposes sanctions or restrictive measures in pursuit of the specific objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) according to the Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union. These sanctions are particularly imposed against the countries violating the political values, fundamental freedoms and with the aim of preserving peace and strengthening international security, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. As for January 2014, the EU’s list of states against which the sanctions were directed included 34 states. Russia joined this list after the annexation of Crimea and its threatening of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

The issue of consistency of the EU’s policy of sanctions, however, remains to be seen. No doubt that the aggressive policy of Russia towards Ukraine is a clear violation of the UN Charter and Helsinki Final Act principles. And this was the reason for the EU sanctions involving asset freezes and travel bans on several individuals from Russia. 

One funny aspect of assets freezing of selected Russian citizens is that the decision on this matter by the European External Action Service (EEAS), not only implies ignorance, but it may prove counter-productive. Indeed, one and a half years ago, Russia passed a law, which prohibits government officials from maintaining assets abroad, so there is nothing to freeze. Thus, the entire assets freezing operation seems to be a childish attack against specific persons. In this way, Lady Ashton, for no reason or benefit, made part of the problem the Russians who are handling the crisis and working for a solution.

Yet the real question is whether it is the first case when one country violates the principles of international law and sovereignty and territorial integrity at the expense of a neighbour.

The recent history of Russia-Georgia war of 2008 is a flagrant case where the EU opted for dialogue and negotiations with Russia rather than sanctions. Even worse was the case of Armenia, which occupied the territories of neighbouring Azerbaijan. Indeed, despite the fact that occupation has been clearly recognised and condemned by the UN, the Council of Europe and other international organisations, the EU not only didn’t implement sanctions against Armenia, but it has even invited the latter for a closer partnership.

The question therefore is why the European Union applies its policy of restrictive measures selectively and how this complies with the UN Charter and our political civilisation. It should be reminded that the representatives of the breakaway regions, (i.e. South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia) not only are subject to restrictive measures, but benefit from unrestricted travel across Europe.

One can argue that the case of Ukraine is special and the latest developments in this country brought the issue of EU-Ukraine relations to the international agenda. Moreover, these developments directly hit the EU’s interests and future perspectives of its Eastern Partnership policy. But still, the issue of breach of the norms and principles of international law, especially the violation of the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the states cannot and should not be subject to interpretation.

This is why the issue of a selective approach by the EU in the application of its security sanctions seems to be a valid concern for other affected partner countries.


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Professor Stavros Katsios

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