Amidst the deepening war of words over Moscow's annexation of Crimea, U.S. President Barack Obama on April 28 added more Russian individuals and companies to a sanctions list that already included influential members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle and Bank Rossiya, which has close ties to the Russian leadership. The new list freezes the assets of Igor Sechin, head of Russia's major oil company, Rosneft, six other individuals and 17 companies.
Significantly, the new U.S. list does not include Alexei Miller, CEO of the Russian natural gas state monopoly, Gazprom.
Although the European Union has imposed its own tough sanctions on 48 Russian individuals, Gazprom is arguably where daylight exists between the Obama administration and the EU on the issue of penalizing Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.
The numbers make it clear why. Russia is the EU's third-biggest trading partner, after the U.S. and China; in 2012, bilateral EU-Russian trade amounted to almost $370 billion. The same year, U.S. trade with Russia amounted to just $26 billion.
More than half of Russia's exports go to Europe, and 45 percent of its imports come from Europe, according to the EU EUROSTAT agency. Out of 485 billion cubic meters of gas consumed by the EU annually, Russia supplies about 160 billion cubic meters, or almost one-third the total volume.
Germany, the EU's economic powerhouse, has been explicit about the costs for the German economy from increased sanctions. Anton Borner, the president of Germany's main trade group, BGA, warned that more than 6,000 German businesses with $105 billion of turnover are interlinked with Russia and stand to lose if sanctions are ratcheted up.
U.S. Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL), who recently visited Ukraine with a Congressional delegation, has offered the likeliest official explanation for why the White House left Gazprom and CEO Miller untouched in the most recent round of sanctions.
In an April 28 appearance on MSNBC, Frankel said, "I think our president is taking a cautious approach warranted because our European allies are...trade partners with Russia, they depend on Russia's energy. And so we have [to] be careful because sanctions against Russia also have the good probability of hurting our allies."
Other members of Congress have shown less willingness to accommodate the EU's delicate economic position. In recent days, senior members of the U.S. Senate have increased their calls for the White House to move against Gazprom. Carl Levin (D -MI), John McCain (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) want Obama to use an executive order that allows him to punish broad sectors of the Russian economy in response to Russia's actions in Crimea.
The lawmakers' statements on the issue have been widely covered in the Ukrainian and Russian press.
In an April 12 letter to Obama, Corker, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "Unless Russia ends its destabilization of eastern Ukraine and drastically reduces troop levels on the Ukrainian border immediately, further sanctions against strategic sectors of the Russian economy, particularly targeting Gazprom and additional important financial institutions, should be imposed within days."
After the latest round of U.S. sanctions this week, Corker repeated that call in a joint statement with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, in which he said, "Until Putin feels the real pain of sanctions targeting entities like Gazprom, which the Kremlin uses to coerce Ukraine and other neighbors, as well as some significant financial institutions, I don't think diplomacy will change Russian behavior and de-escalate this crisis."
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