by Alexander Alexander
Russia's sanctions extension
of 18 months
signals how Russia
benefits from sanctions.
As was universally
predicted, the European Council meeting last week ended with a
extend the sectoral sanctions which
were imposed on Russia in July 2014 for a further 6 months.
As was also universally predicted this has led to a reciprocal
decision by Russia today to
extend Russia's counter-sanctions
banning imports of most food products from the EU.
It is widely known - though never publicly admitted - that a
majority of EU states think the decision to impose sanctions on
Russia was a huge mistake, and that they bitterly regret having let
themselves be strong armed by the Germans into doing it.
However with Angela
Merkel's personal authority now bound up with the sanctions
there is no possibility of Germany changing its position so long as
she remains Germany's Chancellor.
As I have said repeatedly:
so long as Germany
and the EU bureaucracy are committed to maintaining the
sanctions, the sanctions will be maintained, and any protests or
demands to lift them from any of the other EU states will simply
be brushed aside.
It is a fundamental
fallacy to suppose that any of the smaller EU states is in any
position to veto the sanctions, or that its veto would be heeded if
it tried to wield it.
The only other EU state that carries the necessary weight in the
European Council to wield an effective veto against a German
decision to extend the sanctions is France, and the recent victory
of Emmanuel Macron in the French Presidential election was in
part deliberately engineered to ensure that that wouldn't happen.
Whilst Italy and Spain also in theory have the necessary to weight
to veto an extension of sanctions, the way the machinery of the
Italian Presidency was used in 2011 to force the resignation of
former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi serves as a
warning to any Italian or Spanish leader of what they risk if they
choose to defy the will of Brussels and Berlin.
Only if the dissident EU states decide to act in concert and defy
the central European leadership as a group would they be able to
override a decision taken in Berlin and Brussels.
At the present time on
the sanctions issue there is no prospect of this.
They key point however is that with
the Russian economy now recovering strongly,
the point is now passed when the sanctions were doing Russia any
On the contrary, far from
weakening Russia's economy, the sanctions have helped the Russians
strengthen their financial system and above all their agricultural
sector, which is now booming.
The most significant sign of this is a step the Russians in
conjunction with their decision to extend the counter-sanctions.
Whereas the EU's sectoral sanctions have been extended for 6 months
- to the end of this year - the Russians have extended their counter
sanctions to 31st December 2018 i.e. for 18 months.
That means in theory that the Russian counter sanctions might
continue for longer than the EU sanctions they were enacted to
In reality, no one in Moscow seriously doubts the EU sanctions will
continue to be extended throughout 2018 as well irrespective of what
The Russian decision to extend the counter sanctions beyond the
technical expiry of the EU sanctions at the end of December 2017, is
however intended to emphasize a point, that Russia actually benefits
more from the sanctions than it suffers from them, whilst sending a
message to Russia's producers (especially Russia's farmers) that
they can be confident of the government's continued support
irrespective of what the EU does.
Indeed one Russian official has even spoken of Russia continuing
with the counter sanctions for up to 10 years (!), with the
implication that it would actually be better for Russia if the EU
sanctions could be extended for such a period also.
There could be no more damning comment on the effectiveness of the
EU's sanctions strategy than that...