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Strengthening the impact of EU sanctions against Russian aggression in Ukraine

Svitlana Taran

Date: 27/10/2022
As Russia’s largest trade and economic partner, the European Union (EU) has significant leverage to expand the current sanctions regime. Yet, EU countries continue to rely heavily on Russia for their energy, raw materials, and agricultural fertilisers. This dependency reduces the EU’s economic resilience and exposes it to supply chain disruptions. Much more should be done to turn the tide on this dependency.

The EU has so far adopted eight sanction packages against Russia, which already impacted the country’s economy. However, these restrictions will have an even greater impact when all sanctions are in full effect, and Western supply chains reduce their reliance on Russian products. This Discussion Paper identifies five measures the EU can take to increase the impact of sanctions against Russia and end the war as soon as possible. 

  1. Extending the scope of sanctions on Russian export revenues: A large part of Russian trade flow remains unsanctioned. Russia is receiving record revenues from energy exports due to rising prices. Even though Russia’s exports are likely to drop significantly after the implementation of the EU oil embargo, the impact of sanctions can be further increased. By expanding their scope to other sectors, such as the diamond industry, and placing embargoes on all iron and steel supplies, the EU can significantly impact Russia’s economy.
  2. Expanding and aligning export restrictions among the coalition countries: Many exports from the EU to Russia are not restricted. Sanctions should first target products that Moscow would find difficult to replace. EU and coalition partners (such as G7 members and other allies) should align their sanctions regimes to make it harder for Russia to redirect its trade to other markets and substitute its critical imports.
  3. Encouraging more company-level self-sanctions: Voluntary restrictions by companies can have a greater impact on Russian trade and investment flows than compulsory country-level sanctions. Self-sanctions by international companies should be encouraged in sectors unaffected by country-level sanctions, with public pressure serving as an effective catalyst for their trade and investment withdrawal from Russia.
  4. Preventing sanctions circumvention: Loopholes in the current sanction regime should be addressed. Sanctioning countries should take stronger enforcement actions, among others, against countries and foreign companies that facilitate sanctions evasion. The EU must work more closely with its allies to monitor and enforce the imposed sanctions.
  5. Prolonging renewal periods for economic sanctions: The current six-month period for renewing sanctions against Russia could lead to calls for lifting them, threatening EU unity. To avoid this and increase the sanctions’ impact, the EU should consider prolonging their renewal period until Russian troops leave the Ukrainian territory.

Russia’s war of aggression has caused disastrous economic effects and devastating infrastructure damage to Ukraine. EU and Western sanctions against Russia should reflect the extent and consequences of these actions. Closing loopholes and widening the scope of sanctions must be a priority for the EU and its allies to strengthen their impact and curtail Russia’s capacity to continue its war. At the same time, existing possibilities for replacing Russian products with Ukrainian ones should be exploited. While maintaining EU unity over sanctions is a challenge, staying united will be crucial for sustaining the credibility of EU policies, accelerating the end of the war, and securing long-term peace in Europe.

Read the full paper here.
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