The European Union called on March 18 for more countries to impose sanctions on Russia over Crimea joining the Russian Federation two years ago.
In a statement issued on the anniversary of Crimea’s formal accession to Russia, the EU said it will maintain its sanctions that ban European companies from investing in Russian Black Sea oil and gas exploration.
«The European Union remains committed to fully implementing its non-recognition policy, including through restrictive measures», the European Council, which represents EU governments, said. «The EU calls again on UN member states to consider similar non-recognition measures».
Separately, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged the EU and United States to maintain their broader economic sanctions against Russia over its support for self-declared republics in the eastern part of Ukraine. «It is important that we continue the economic sanctions», Stoltenberg told an event in Brussels.
The Crimean Peninsula became a part of the Russian Federation on March 18, 2014 after the referendum carried out on March 16 showed 97 percent of voters supported joining Russia.
The Kremlin responded by saying that the issue of Crimea could not be «a matter of negotiations or international contacts». «Our position is known: this is a region of the Russian Federation. Russia has not discussed and will never discuss its regions with anyone», President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a teleconference with reporters.
«In this case we should treat with respect the expression of the will of Crimean residents and the decision which was taken two years ago», he emphasized.
The 28-nation EU imposed its Crimea sanctions in July 2014 and then tightened them in December 2014, banning EU citizens from buying or financing companies in Crimea. The United States, Japan and some other major economies, including Australia and Canada, also imposed sanctions on Russia, whereas many other economically developed nations, like, for instance, China and Brazil, refused to join.
It should be noted that the extension of anti-Russian sanctions is a very much divisive issue inside the European Union.
Hungary and Italy said last week they would not agree to extend the EU’s toughest economic sanctions on Russia, the EU’s major energy supplier, without discussions before the summer.
Germany’s Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel called on March 17 for the EU to try to create conditions by this summer to lift sanctions.
France’s Minister for the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs Emmanuel Macron said in January that Paris will look to assist in the lifting of Western backed sanctions on Russia by the summer.
Serbia, a nation in talks on joining the EU, has firmly rejected the idea of joining the sanctions regime.
US Republican Senator John McCain has the reputation of hawk calling for getting tough on Russia. But even he had to admit the fact that the sanctions are becoming increasingly unpopular inside the EU. «I think there is clearly a lot of conversation amongst the Europeans about lifting the sanctions… There are many countries that are looking for the exit sign», the Senator said in February. «I have been hearing it for months, that there is enormous pressure in a lot of countries, particularly Germany, to lift the sanctions», he noted.
At that the prominent US politician believes it is up to Washington if and when the sanctions are eventually lifted, saying that the final decision will «to some degree depend on American leadership». Actually, the US right-wing politician openly stated the EU decision on the sanctions is made under US pressure.
Indeed, the EU is following the US. President Obama announced American sanctions against Russia are to be prolonged for another year on March 2.
The EU obediently chimed in 16 days later.
The attempts of the EU to influence other countries into joining the anti-Russia sanctions regime look especially ridiculous against the organization’s failure to make the tiny nation of San Marino, an enclaved microstate surrounded by Italy, comply with the EU’s demands. The republic is not officially part of the European Union and does not face Russia's food embargo. According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a Russian government daily newspaper of record which publishes the official decrees, statements and documents of state bodies, San Marino and Russia signed an export agreement on March 18 during the International Economic Forum of CIS countries.
San Marino’s Minister of Regional Development and International Economic Cooperation Antonella Mularoni attended the forum. Now this European country will export to Russia a range of products, including Parmesan cheese and premium meat products like local Parma type ham. «There are 24 dairies in the republic, and a lot of enterprises engaged in meat smoking», the executive director of the national wholesalers association Vladimir Lishchuk told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. According to him, imports will take the place of illegal goods bypassing the Russian food embargo. Russia’s food safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said it would monitor food imports from San Marino to prevent re-exports of sanctioned products from neighboring EU countries. Russia introduced the food embargo in August 2014 in response to Western sanctions. The ban applied to meat, poultry and fish, cheese, milk, fruit and vegetables from the United States, the EU, Australia, Canada, Norway, Japan and a number of other countries. According to Russia's Ministry of Economic Development, the import of banned products has fallen by nearly half to $6 billion in the first six months of 2015. Overall imports from the EU have fallen by 45 percent.
Evidently, the EU’s call for UN members to join the sanctions is an effort doomed to go down the drain. The European Union has no leverage strong enough to make world nations comply.
The organization itself is not in a strong position. Looks like it has seen its best days. Brussels is facing a host of acute problems. Many of them seem to be a tall order, for instance: the flows of migrants, the economic inequality of the Union’s members, debt problem and the conflicting views of the UK and Germany on European integration, to name a few.
Doing away with the divisive issue of anti-Russia sanctions could provide an impetus to making progress in other fields, but Brussels prefers a different approach.
The EU statement shows the Union’s leadership is adamant in its desire to go down the slippery slope risking a revolt among the member-states with tensions running already high inside «the European family».