Ukraine Live Day 304: EU Not To Relax Sanctions As Shelling Continues In Lugansk Region

December 18, 2014
Russian or separatist tanks operating near Donetsk, likely in early December. Screenshot from YouTube video.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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New Bill Supporting Ukraine And Sanctioning Russia May Not Be Implemented

We’ve been trying to parse out what a new bill passed by the US Congress would actually mean. The Ukraine Support Act of 2014 gives President Obama the authority to pass more sanctions against Russia. It also gives Obama the authority to send Ukraine weapons. However, we’ve been skeptical of the bill since it’s always been unclear whether Congress has the authority to force the President to do any of those things.

That skepticism appears to have been merited.

Here is the statement released by the White House after President Obama signed the bill into law:

Today, I have signed H.R. 5859, the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, into law. Signing this legislation does not signal a change in the Administration’s sanctions policy, which we have carefully calibrated in accordance with developments on the ground and coordinated with our allies and partners.  At this time, the Administration does not intend to impose sanctions under this law, but the Act gives the Administration additional authorities that could be utilized, if circumstances warranted.

My Administration will continue to work closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to respond to developments in Ukraine and will continue to review and calibrate our sanctions to respond to Russia’s actions. We again call on Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, cease support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, and implement the obligations it signed up to under the Minsk agreements.

As I have said many times, our goal is to promote a diplomatic solution that provides a lasting resolution to the conflict and helps to promote growth and stability in Ukraine and regionally, including in Russia.  In this context, we continue to call on Russia’s leadership to implement the Minsk agreements and to reach a lasting and comprehensive resolution to the conflict which respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  We remain prepared to roll back sanctions should Russia take the necessary steps.

As AP reports, waving new sanctions does give the President more control over the sanctions process.

White Houses sometimes chafe at congressionally-mandated sanctions because revoking the penalties requires legislative action. Obama has told Russian President Vladimir Putin he would roll back U.S. sanctions if Russia stopped meddling in Ukraine, but keeping that promise would potentially be more cumbersome considering the penalties approved on Capitol Hill.

AP also reports that it’s unlikely the Obama administration will send lethal aid to Ukraine, either, despite the wishes of Congress and the Ukrainian government.

The legislation also gives the president the authority to send Ukraine anti-tank weapons, counter-artillery radar and tactical surveillance drones. However, administration officials said previously that Obama was not expected to act on that authority.

For now the Obama administration’s position on Ukraine is clear — the Minsk agreements are the way the Obama administration would like to settle this conflict. What’s not clear, however, is how the administration plans to convince Russia to abide by an agreement which the US says Russia has never followed, or how the US will support Ukraine if Russia continues to fail to live up to their end of the deal.

EU Passes Sanctions Banning Investment And Tourism In Crimea

The European Union has passed a new wave of sanctions — not against Russia specifically, but against Russian-occupied Crimea. New York Times reports:

The European Union announced new sanctions over Ukraine on Thursday, outlawing European investment in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in March, as leaders of the 28-nation bloc gathered in Brussels to review their strategy toward Russia.

The Crimea measures, which restrict or ban investment, trade and tourism, do not strike at Russia’s economy as a whole and are far more modest than a new round of American sanctions mandated by Congress in legislation expanding financial and other moves against Russia…

“The fact that Russia is in a difficult situation from a financial point of view is not good news, first of all for Russian citizens, but also it is not good news for Ukraine, it is not good for Europe or for the rest of the world,” [ newly appointed EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini] told reporters ahead of a summit meeting in Brussels of European leaders.

James Miller

Lugansk Governor Reports 7 Shelling Attacks Over Last 24 Hours

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Hennadiy Moskal, the governor of the Lugansk region, has announced that Russian-backed forces have conducted 7 shelling attacks over the last 24 hours.

Attacks were reported near Krymskyoe, Chernukhino, Tryokhizbenka and Stanitsa Luganskaya.

The Interpreter translates:

After 17:00 [15:00 GMT] Krymskoye was shelled with mortars. No homes or infrastructure were destroyed and there were no civilian casualties.

Over the course of the day, the village of Chernukhino was periodically fired on with automatic weapons, while artillery volleys were heard on the outskirts of Tryokhizbenka.

Blasts from heavy artillery shells were heard last night in Stanitsa Luganskaya. From time to time, brief fire fights with automatic weapons broke out. There are no reports on destruction or civilian casualties.

Here is a map indicating the locations of the reported attacks:


— Pierre Vaux

EU Official Says No Likelihood Of Relaxing Sanctions

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service, Radio Svoboda, reports that a high ranking EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has told them that, while the EU may hold back on a further tightening of sanctions in light of Russia’s economic crisis, there was no likelihood of relaxing existing measures.

UNIAN have summarised the Ukrainian-language report in English:

The official, who asked to remain anonymous, said there was no likelihood of sanctions against Russia being relaxed, but that a further tightening of sanctions was also not on the cards.

 According to the official, the EU does not want to see Russia sink into an economic depression, but the sanctions currently in place are expected to be confirmed. 

According to earlier reports, the European Union has expressed willingness to tighten sanctions if necessary, and may announce new restrictions on companies in Russian-occupied Crimea. This may relate to extended ban on foreign investment in the peninsula, on oil and gas production in the Black Sea, as well as sanctions on the tourism sector.

As for Ukraine, EU leaders will discuss the possibility of additional aid, the provision of which will be tied to progress with reforms, according to the EU official.

Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has stated that Europe has no other choice but to maintain the pressure on Russia.

Speaking at a business conference in Berlin, he said that the EU was leaving the door open for a dialogue with Russia and seeks cooperation with it.

However, the minister pointed out that in view of Russia’s ongoing occupation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the EU had no other choice except to impose sanctions.

Meanwhile Reuters reported in the early hours of this morning that Chancellor Angela Merkel had told the Bundestag that, as long as the Kremlin does not respect Ukrainian sovereignty and, as the report says, “help ensure what she called ‘European security with Russia, not against Russia,'” then “sanctions remain unavoidable.”