BERLIN, May 29, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --
Senior European politicians yesterday condemned US and EU sanctions against Russia as counterproductive at an event in Berlin organised by the International Foundation for Better Governance, a Brussels-based NGO. They also called for a more constructive approach to resolving the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. With Angela Merkel recently threatening tougher sanctions, the leaders warned that any attempt to punish Russia through economic measures would damage European business interests in Russia and harm the European economy at a delicate moment in its recovery.
With over 6000 German businesses operating in Russia, and with Europe's largest economy dependent on Russia for over a third of its oil and natural gas, the economic cost of sanctions would be felt throughout the continent.
"Sanctions quickly lead to diplomatic isolation and military action", warned Doug Henderson, formerly the UK's Minister for Europe, adding "sanctions are political gestures, but the big questions is, what do you do next? The only strategy to pursue in situations like this is to engage and keep articulating an internationalist agenda."
Prior to Ukrainian elections on 25th May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened to impose tougher sanctions if Russia disputed the results. But with President Putin being seen to accept the election of Petro Poroshenko as legitimate, a more positive dialogue between Europe and Russia is now an option.
Mr Henderson, who also served under Tony Blair as Minister for the Armed Forces, laid out a roadmap for moving forward. "On the one hand, there needs to be a strong signal from the West that Ukraine will never form part of NATO, much like Finland. On the other, there is probably a necessity for a decentralisation of powers in Ukraine, with the western regions given the opportunity to develop stronger economic ties with Europe, while the east consolidates its relationship with Russia."
Other speakers at the event included Jean-Luc Schaffhauser MEP, Andrey Zverev, Trade Representative of the Russian Federation in Germany, and Avigdor Eskin, a Ukrainian-Israeli political analyst.
The event followed on from a report from the German-Russian Chamber of Trade, which warned that "the resulting damage to German business would be "long-term and sustainable", causing "irreparable damage" to German's competitive position, according to Reuters reporting.
This message was reinforced by Mr Zverev, who confirmed that it would be impossible to impact the Russian economy without damaging European economic interests. He said, "last year the German trade turnover with Russia reached €105 billion. German investments in Russia totalled over €20 billion in 2013, while Russia has invested over €10 billion in Germany last year. Thousands of companies are sharing businesses in both countries. That is why sanctions against Russia will hurt Germany and Europe as much as they will hurt Russia".
Mr Eskin, opening the debate, condemned the West's actions as immoral, saying "economic sanctions cannot be a driver for peace because they are always directed against civilian populations. Sanctions bring hate and encourage violence. They are effective only if they encourage the people to rise up and overthrow their governments. But the reality is that they have merely served to strengthen Putin's popularity in Russia."
The unintentional damage to Europe's position was elaborated on by M. Schaffhauser, recently elected to the European Parliament for the Ile-de-France region. M. Schaffhauser, a veteran of Strasbourg politics, said that "EU and US interests diverge and Europe should focus on its own interests. In the US, there is a large contingent of policy makers who see Cold War as comfortable position to be in, but for Europe, the reality is that we have much broader ties with Russia. The days of the Cold War are over and European governments need to recalibrate their politics to reflect that."
James Wilson, founder of the International Foundation for Better Governance, who moderated the event said, "hopefully this is a wakeup call for Europeans. Russia is a key partner for Europe, and we need a more balanced, rational debate about the economic and social consequences of imposing sanctions."
SOURCE International Foundation for Better Governance