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Even if President Obama demonstrated an appetite for imposing serious sanctions on Russia, it’s not at all clear that the European Union would support him. Why? From the London Spectator:
[T]he gaping rift between the EU and America stands exposed. The Washington hawks gained almost no traction in western Europe, where there was little appetite for conflict. Even if Russia didn’t supply a third of Europe’s oil and gas, other commercial ties still bind. EU trade with Russia was £280 billion in 2012. America’s total was a twelfth of that, little of it in hydrocarbons. No wonder the hawks have been frustrated that the EU won’t do more.
Upheaval in Ukraine has also seen Germany emerge as a major international player. Berlin, its diplomacy so often hobbled by residual 20th-century guilt, has moved decisively to protect its interests. The Russo-German axis, we realise, is strong and getting stronger. With great determination, many German firms have built lucrative Russian trading links over the last two decades. Along with the likes of VW and Siemens, thousands of ‘Mittelstand’ — small and medium-sized — outfits now operate in Russia’s far-flung regions, making everything from machine tools to plasterboard. Russia has become Germany’s biggest single-country trading partner — a relationship that has much further to run.
Such commercial links put the idea of a united western world baring its teeth at Moscow firmly in the last century. Berlin has staunchly resisted meaningful sanctions, ensuring the EU follows suit.
All this brings to mind an episode from the old days.
Not long after President Reagan took office, he imposed a ban on technology transfers to the Soviet Union, in effect making it impossible for American companies to help build the new Soviet pipeline to Western Europe then under construction. Who opposed this measure so fiercely that the President was ultimately forced to back down, lifting the ban?
Prime Minister Thatcher.
If even Margaret Thatcher insisted on doing business with the Russians, then David Cameron, Angela Merkel and all the rest will most certainly simply shrug off American efforts at real sanctions. The military option is off the table–and, really, who would want to see us start a fight over the Crimea?–and now imposing effective sanctions looks mighty difficult, too.
Dealing with Russia is going to prove…tricky.
Good people of Ricochet, your advice for President Obama?