MH17 and the EU & USA’s Sanctions on Russia
The EU and the US had previously imposed sanctions against Russia in March for the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine after Crimea’s referendum was considered to be illegitimate since it violated the Ukrainian constitution and international law. The sanctions imposed included travel bans for citizens from Russia and the freezing of Russian and Ukrainian officials’ assets.
After the annexation of Crimea, pro-Russian protests broke out in Eastern Ukraine. The cities of Donetsk and Luhansk were affected the most as pro-Russian militants seized control of governmental buildings. Russia, the EU, the US and Ukraine have been trying to de-escalate the situation in the region ever since.
On May the 11th, the militants in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine after more referendums were held. Just as with Crimea, the vote was not recognized by Ukraine or the West. On the 25th of May, Petro Poroshenko was elected president of Ukraine and since then progress has been made against the pro-Russian separatists.
Ukrainian forces have been fighting the separatists to restore peace and order in the east of the country. In the meantime, Russia has been accused by the west of not doing enough the de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine. There has been evidence in the past that Russia was aiding the separatists with weaponry, money and militants.
On the 27th of June, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia signed an association agreement with the EU as part of the Eastern Partnership Program (EaP). This agreement improves relations between these countries and the EU in terms of trade and political assistance. Although these countries have EU membership aspirations, it is important to note that this agreement is not a membership promise. Russia perceives this agreement as a threat to its interests and stated that trade with these former Soviet countries might suffer consequences.
Ukraine crisis reaches peak
On the 17th of July, a Malaysia Airlines Flight (MH17) carrying passengers from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down whilst flying over Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. All passengers, mainly Dutch nationals, and crew members aboard the flight were killed.
Petro Poroshenko called it an act of terrorism. Ukraine blames the pro-Russian separatists for the crash. In return, Russian president Vladimir Putin blames the military campaign of Ukraine against the rebels for the crash. In a TV interview Putin stated that “This tragedy would not have happened, if there had been peace on that land, or in any case, if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed,” and that “without a doubt the government of the territory on which it happened bears responsibility for this frightening tragedy.”
The Netherlands started a war crime investigation into the shooting down of the plane. EU representatives Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso called for an immediate and detailed investigation into the crash.
Governments in the West accuse pro-Russian separatists and Russia for the attack on the plane with a Russian missile having confused it with a military plane from Ukraine. Russia denies being involved. US president Barack Obama supports the investigation and claimed that separatists were obstructing the investigation and were moving evidence. He also stated that it is Russia’s responsibility to stop rebels from interfering with the investigation.
After the attack on flight MH 17 there has been pressure on the EU to act. However, due to fighting between the government and separatists, access to the crash site is difficult and is hampering the investigation.
On Tuesday the 29th of July, the US and the EU announced additional sanctions against Russia. Obama said that the sanctions were focused on weakening Russia’s economy so that the price for supporting the rebels would become higher. US sanctions targeted three Russian banks by banning US citizens from banking with them. President Obama also said that the energy, finance and armament sector would also be affected. The president stated that “if Russia continues on this current path, the costs on Russia will continue to grow.”
The EU also adopted sanctions targeting Russia’s economy. Russian institutions owned by the state will have limited access to EU markets. An embargo on the trade of armaments will be imposed and Russia’s access to sensitive technologies in the oil sector will be restricted.
However, whether or not these sanctions will change Russia’s attitude in resolving the Ukraine crisis is yet to be determined. Russia claims to be innocent but how true is this? Almost all agree that the reality is that a Russian surface-to-air BUK missile, fired from the rebel-held area of Donetsk near the Russian border, shot down MH17. If Russia is truly innocent, where else would the separatists have gotten their weapons, and training, from?
*Cover image ‘sanctions‘ by Asian Media