European Union Sanctions on Russia: Staying the Course

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Earlier this month, President Hollande of France stated his willingness to end U.S. and European sanctions against Russia.[1] Hollande is not the only leader discussing easing the sanctions; leaders in Italy, Hungary, and Slovakia have also called for sanctions to be eased.[2] Many fear that the sanctions will cripple Russia, leading to disastrous results in the international economy.[3] However, Russia has made no moves to end the violence in the region or to end its annexation of Crimea. In fact, violence in the eastern region has seen a recent uptick, despite a cease-fire that has been in place since September.[4] Unless Russia makes a demonstrated effort to mitigate the conflict, the European Union must not end the sanctions. To do so would be tantamount to condoning Russia’s illegal behavior.

Russia’s activity in Ukraine is clearly illegal. Under the U.N. Charter, “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”[5] Russia’s military involvement near the Ukraine border and its annexation of the neighboring Crimea are “quintessential example[s] of illegal use of force.”[6] The European Union has responded to this use of force by imposing economic sanctions against Russia since March of 2014.[7] The EU issued the latest round of comprehensive restrictive measures and sanctions in July.[8] These measures were amended over the next five months[9], and, as of this date, 132 persons and 28 entities are subject to asset freezes and travel bans.[10] Additionally, import and export from Crimea is prohibited.[11] But most damaging, are the economic sanctions affecting Russian banks, oil companies, and defense companies.[12]

These sanctions, along with tough U.S. sanctions, have certainly had an impact on the Russian economy. Oil prices have been falling, along with the value of the Ruble.[13] Inflation is rising and recession is likely.[14] Russia’s economy, however, is not the only one affected. Many European countries are experiencing a downturn because of their ties to the Russian economy.[15] There is now talk to end sanctions in hopes of improving economic conditions. A European Council discussion paper, that as of this writing had not been disseminated yet, reportedly proposes to gradually ease sanctions.[16] But no matter how economically advantageous it would be to end the sanctions, the European Union must hold firm and refuse to lift the bans until Russia makes a demonstrated effort to end the conflict.[17] Easing the sanctions without any acknowledgement of wrongdoing and remedial action on Russia’s part would signal to the world that the European Union will tolerate acts of aggression.

[1] France Seeks End to Russia Sanctions over Ukraine, BBC News (Jan. 5, 2015),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Andrew Roth, 10 Are Killed in Ukraine as Diplomacy Hits a Wall, N.Y. Times, Jan. 13, 2015, available at

[5] U.N. Charter art. 2, para. 4.

[6] Cynthia Barmore & Chris Miller, Dumping Debt and Seizing Assets: Ukrainian Countermeasures for Russian Aggression, 67 Stan. L. Rev. Online 67, 68 (2014).

[7] Council Decision 2014/119/CFSP, 2014 O.J. (L 66) 26; see European Union External Action, Fact Sheet: EU-Ukraine Relations 4 (Jan. 9 2015),

[8] Council Regulation (EU) No. 833/2014, preamble, 2014 O.J. (L 229) 1.

[9] See European Union External Action, supra note 7, at 5–8.

[10] EU Sanctions Against Russia Over Ukraine Crisis, European Union Newsroom, (no longer available).

[11] Id.

[12] Council Regulation (EU) No. 833/2014, arts. 2–5.

[13] Frances Coppola, Oil, Sanctions and Russian Politics, Forbes (Dec. 1, 2014),

[14] Id.

[15] See France Seeks End to Russia Sanctions over Ukraine, supra note 1.

[16] Laurence Norman, EU Explores Russia Sanctions Options, Better Ties, Wall St. J., Jan. 13, 2015, available at

[17] On January 19, the European Union attempted to demonstrate a united front, stating that there are no plans to end the sanctions. Naftali Bendavid & Laurence Norman, EU Has No Plans to Ease Russia Sanctions, Wall St. J., Jan. 19, 2015, available at The fact remains, however, that several states, such as France, Hungary, and Cyprus, would like to either ease sanctions or to resume cooperation with Russia in ways that do not involve the Ukraine. See id.

Posted by Andrea Lynn Curley on Tue. January 27, 2015 12:55 PM
Categories: European Union, Russia, Ukraine, United Nations
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