Putin on the Brakes

EU Sanctions are Set to Expire—Here's What to Do Now

A boy sits on a swing near his building, which was damaged during fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists, as an armored personnel carrier of the Ukrainian armed forces drives by, June 7, 2015. Gleb Garanich / Reuters

The conflict in Ukraine might reach a turning point this summer as EU sanctions against Russia near their expiration date and the “Minsk II” ceasefire in eastern Ukraine comes under increasing strain. Russian troops are reportedly massing near Ukraine’s borders, and observers are documenting up to 80 daily ceasefire violations, including a separatist offensive last week. Ukrainian leaders are bracing for intensified violence in the weeks ahead when, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, “the chances of a new [Russian] offensive are very, very high.”

The EU Council is scheduled to hold a meeting in late June to consider extending its “sectoral sanctions” on Russia, those targeting energy, defense, and financial firms, before they expire on July 31. If just a single EU nation objects to the renewal—and several, including Greece and Hungary, have expressed hesitation—then the entire sanctions regime may collapse. It would force the United States, whose own policy response to Russia has benefited from close coordination with international partners, to confront difficult decisions about the future course of its Russia sanctions policy. These include whether to ratchet up its own sanctions, with or without the European Union, within the three categories imposed thus far (blocking, export control, and sectoral) or seek new types of restrictive measures (secondary and country sanctions).

Putin gestures during the Business Russia forum in Moscow, Russia, May 26, 2015.

Putin gestures during the Business Russia forum in Moscow, Russia, May 26, 2015.

Alexei Nikolsky / Reuters
Several options are unlikely unless the security situation further deteriorates in Eastern Europe—whether in Ukraine or, more dramatically, in NATO countries in the Baltics. They carry varying benefits and costs, including the precision with which they can be targeted, potential diplomatic challenges with allies and partners, the extent to which they are a disproportionate burden on U.S. industries, and administrative complexity. What is clear is that the United States has the opportunity to select from a broad menu of responses to protect its interests in the region.


To date, the United States has “blocked” approximately 130 Russian and Ukrainian officials, businessmen, separatists, and companies. Blocking sanctions are the most common among the measures

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