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Sanctions, trade and overall relationship

15 - Diplomatic measures and sanctions

Grade: A
Unity 4/5
Resources 4/5
Strategy 5/5
Impact 5/5
Total 18/20
Scorecard 2015: A- (17/20)
Scorecard 2015: B+ (15/20)

Europe stuck to sanctions on Russia, while using the Minsk process for mediation. Some cracks in unity emerged at year-end

Europe has a threefold strategy for dealing with Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It uses diplomatic measures, sanctions, visa bans, and asset freezes as sticks; relies on the Minsk agreement as a diplomatic vehicle; and is searching for a carrot to encourage Russia to rejoin a cooperative Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)-based European order. On the latter front, cooperation with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union is being considered as a potential basis of a deal.

The EU was largely unified in adhering to the sanctions policy throughout 2015, as seen with the rollover of sanctions in the summer. Potentially dangerous cracks emerged towards the end of the year when Italy objected to another automatic rollover and demanded a political discussion. This, however, may have had less to do with disagreements on substance than with protest against Germany, which was seen as hypocritical for going ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. In the end, sanctions were extended.

Most sanctions are linked to the implementation of the Minsk agreement, and the EU’s position has been that only the full implementation – Ukraine regaining control of its eastern border – will result in these sanctions being lifted. Progress on implementation is slow: the shaky ceasefire is continuously violated, while OSCE monitors lack proper access to the conflict area and cannot verify that the agreed withdrawal of troops and weaponry is happening. As concerns implementation by Ukraine, Kyiv has started on some of the agreed legislative changes, including the first reading of constitutional reforms. Negotiations about the conditions for Donbas elections are underway and remain difficult. The Minsk process was supposed to conclude by the end of the year, but is set to continue well into 2016, as are sanctions.

Diplomatically, the Minsk process has been taking place in the framework of the so-called Normandy format, with Germany and France representing Europe.