Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 01.02.2019
The European Union and the United States may impose new sanctions on Russian individuals and entities if Ukrainian Navy sailors captured in the November 25 attack are not released. Senior EU ministers have been visiting Ukraine on the Sea of Azov coast in recent weeks. U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, Kurt Volker, is active on the file. Given the Kremlin’s years-long intransigence and the never-ending failure of ‘dialogue’ with the Putin regime there is no good reason to refrain from imposing meaningful sanctions on Russians responsible for waging open war against Ukraine.
Kurt Volker gave an on-the-record telephone briefing to journalists on January 31. He told them what the trans-Atlantic allies are doing to support Ukraine: “I can say that both the United States and Europe are looking into what additional measures we should be taking if Russia fails to return the sailors and continues to make those assertions of control of the Kerch Strait.”
The foreign ministers of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia visited Dnipro, Ukraine where the saw wounded Ukrainian soldiers at the Mechnikov Hospital. They spoke via video link with civic officials in Mariupol because the weather was too poor on January 15 to travel to that Ukrainian port city on the Sea of Azov. These senior EU politicians wanted to show their support for Ukraine after the Russian Federation’s seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and illegal detention of Ukrainian sailors.
“The European Union supports Ukraine and we find that we should affirm our support with specific steps. One such step would be additional sanctions on Russia, a so-called Azov package in response to what took place in the Sea of Azov," said Sven Mikser, Estonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, on January 18. He pointed out that the EU imposed additional sanctions on Russian individuals after the illegitimate so-called ‘elections’ in Donbas. The attack committed against the Ukrainian Navy warrants similar additional sanctions.
On January 29 the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic and Denmark did manage to visit Mariupol. They also saw the front line village of Hnutove. They gained powerful impressions of Europeans who have been confronted with Russian aggression in their daily lives for five and a half years. It is to be hoped they take these impressions back with them to Brussels, and relate them to their EU peers.
Germany and France have been played for fools by the Putin regime. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov floated talk of an international commission to oversee the Kerch Strait. In the same breath, he rejected the participation of Ukraine in such a commission or the notion that the Russian Federation would respect 2003’s Agreement Between the Russian Federation and Ukraine on Co-operation in the Use of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait. Lavrov point-blank refused to release the captured Ukrainian Navy sailors or to treat them properly as prisoners of war and give them the protections of the Third Geneva Convention.
The Russian Federation can stave off new sanctions by freeing the 24 Ukrainian POWs, releasing the three Ukrainian naval vessels, and lifting the blockade on Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov. Given the track record of relentless Russian aggression against Ukraine, this is unlikely to happen. The US and the EU – and Canada and Australia and Japan and other countries of the civilized West – must introduce new and meaningful sanctions in February against Russians who are responsible for the open act of war against Ukraine on 25 November 2018.