EU meets to punish Russia over Crimea

CNN
Monday, March 17, 2014 - 12:00pm

European Union foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss sanctions on Russia that could be revealed as early as Monday.

Western nations are looking to strike back against Russia for meddling in Ukraine and its southern region of Crimea.

Final results from a referendum Crimea Sunday showed nearly 97% of those who voted backed plans to join Russia. The result was expected -- and the West maintained the referendum was illegal. Moscow strongly backed the vote.

President Obama called Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday and said the vote "would never be recognized by the United States and the international community," according to the White House.

It remains unclear what kind of sanctions the West will deliver. U.S. and European officials have said they could impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Multiple lists of possible subjects of sanctions were circulated among diplomats over the weekend, said a European diplomatic source.

"My expectation is that it will be a small but politically significant list, which will send a clear message not just in Crimea but to Russia," a separate European diplomatic source told CNN over the weekend.

Arriving for the Brussels meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the group would look to send the "strongest possible signal" to Russia about the seriousness of the situation. British Foreign Minister William Hague said a list of targets was still being discussed, and he hoped it would include Russian, as well as Ukrainian names.

The focus on individuals, rather than Russian companies or trade, reflects concern that a new Cold War could hurt the region's fragile economic recovery.

While sanctions would hurt both sides, Russia would suffer much more than the West, analysts say. The European Union's exports to Russia account for 1% of EU gross domestic product. Russian exports to the EU are worth nearly 15% of Russian GDP.

Former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, now an economic adviser to Putin, said even limited sanctions would hit foreign and domestic investment in Russia.

Western banks are already shutting off credit lines. Kudrin was quoted by Russian media last week saying the economy may not grow at all this year as a consequence of the current tension.

Russian markets have been slammed this year, although they were steadier on Monday. The main stock market index has fallen by roughly 20%, and the ruble has plunged to record lows against the dollar.

Investors pulled $33 billion out of the country in January and February, and that figure could hit $55 billion by the end of March, according to Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital.

Russia will also face a hefty bill for supporting Crimea. The region currently depends on Ukraine for roughly 70% of its budget, 90% of its water, and most of its energy and food supplies.

Still, as long as the crisis doesn't spill over into other parts of Ukraine, analysts believe a full scale trade war should be averted and Russia will keep pumping critical supplies of energy to Europe.

In its weakened economic state, Russia can't afford to lose export revenues. And the threat of a suspension of gas supplies is less potent than the last time it happened -- in 2009 -- because European gas stockpiles are higher and the weather is getting warmer.
 

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