Although the EU, NATO, and leading European countries have warned Russia that a possible attack on Ukraine would carry a high price due to the country’s military buildup along the border, they have not specified what sanctions would be imposed.
Russia recently amassed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s eastern border, prompting fears that the Kremlin is planning another military offensive against its former Soviet neighbor.
Since last November, both NATO and EU officials have repeatedly voiced their concerns about Russia’s military concentration, warning that Moscow will face serious consequences and heavy sanctions if Ukraine is attacked.
The NATO secretary general announced on Wednesday that the alliance delivered its response to Russia on European security arrangements.
“NATO is a defensive alliance, and we do not seek confrontation. But, we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on the security of our alliances and security of Europe and North America,” Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference.
Last December, NATO responded to two draft accords presented by Russia to the US and NATO, rejecting Russian demands to withdraw its troops and weapons from Eastern Europe and to halt Ukraine’s transatlantic integration.
The military alliance also called on Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine and engage in a dialogue.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also warned on Thursday that “nothing is off the table” in terms of sanctions, and that if Russia attacked Ukraine, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline could be halted.
“I want to be very clear: Nothing is off the table, everything is on the table,” von der Leyen told CNN.
The Nord Stream 2 offshore natural gas pipeline runs under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.
“We are very clear that if there is any further aggression or military aggression by Russia against Ukraine, there will be massive consequences and severe costs for Russia,” von der Leyen said.
No preemptive sanctions
Ukraine’s president urged the EU on Dec.16 to quickly impose new sanctions on Russia, warning that actions taken after conflict starts would be too late.
Speaking to the press after the 6th Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels, Volodymyr Zelensky said, referring to the conflict against Russian-backed separatists in Donbas, eastern Ukraine: “We have a war that has been going on for eight years. We understand that sanctions will only become a possible escalation prevention mechanism if implemented before an armed conflict.”
In a response to Zelensky, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Dec. 18 that the bloc refused to impose “preventive sanctions” against Russia, saying draft sanctions had been prepared so that the bloc would not be caught off guard in the event of an escalation, and that they would be implemented if necessary.
A senior EU official on Jan. 21 said the EU had not yet finalized the content of the possible reactions to Russia as discussions were ongoing within the union.
The official claimed that the final decision’s content will be easily determined and shared with the allies when necessary, adding that the EU will make a decision and impose sanctions within days following a possible attack by Russia.
Underlining that the EU gave a strong response to Russia’s aggression in 2014, when it illegally annexed Crimea, the official claimed that next time, the level of reaction from the EU would not be lower than in the past.
EU sanctions on Russia over Ukraine
In recent months the EU has repeatedly condemned the continued Russian military buildup in and around Ukraine and has stood up for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The US and its European allies have warned that Russia is preparing an invasion of Ukraine by stationing over 100,000 troops along its border with the former Soviet republic, as well as considerable artillery and tank deployments.
Moscow has denied preparing a military offensive, claiming that its troops are conducting regular military exercises. It has instead issued a list of security demands to the US and NATO, including Ukraine not joining NATO, to calm existing tensions.
NATO began to increase its presence in Eastern Europe following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The bloc has been imposing sanctions on Russia’s financial, military, and energy sectors since 2014, accusing Moscow of destabilizing activities in Ukraine.
Under the restrictions, certain Russian banks and companies have limited access to the bloc’s capital markets, while EU operators are prohibited from providing services to Russian financial institutions.
The EU has also restricted trade in defense-related goods and sensitive technologies that could be used in Russia’s energy sector.
In 2014, Moscow began supporting separatist forces in eastern Ukraine against the central government, a policy that it has maintained since then.
* Writing by Zehra Nur Duz
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