Russia’s response to MH17 crash shifts EU attitudes on sanctions

Jul 29, 2014, 10:14 PM
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RELATED LINKSNews Wrap: Violence prevents access to MH17 wreckage National Security Advisor Rice on sticking points of Mideast cease-fire and Russia proxy-war potential Economic fragility, energy on the line for EU countries considering tougher Russia penalties JUDY WOODRUFF: To help make sense of today’s developments, our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, joins us.

So, Margaret, tell us more about what these sanctions do.

MARGARET WARNER: Broadly, Judy, what they try to do is hobble the Russians’ access to both capital and technology in these three key areas, arms, energy and finance.

So, for instance, let’s just take finance. Now — by now, five of the six state-owned Russian banks basically will have no access to medium- and long-term capital or debt, and since they get almost 100 percent of it from U.S. and Western sources, as one U.S. official said today, they’re essentially going to have to shut down.

Private banks aren’t being touched. If you take the arms area, again, they’re going to use export license restrictions to prevent future sales of arms to Russia. And in the energy sector, they’re going to use export license restrictions to prevent Western companies from giving the Russians access to future technologies, particularly in deep water and in shale gas, because the key thing here is, Judy, nothing will interfere here with current projects, whether it’s BP or ExxonMobil in the energy field, the French selling its warships.

What they’re trying to do as much as possible is not hit Western businesses too hard, but make it clear to the Russians that future investments is really going to be crippled.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we know, until now, Margaret, the Europeans have been reluctant to impose critical sanctions like these on critical sectors.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What caused them to change their mind?

MARGARET WARNER: Talking both to Europeans and to U.S. officials, Judy, what’s clear is, it really was a shift of attitudes to one of deep anger, not only in the public, but among officials, about the downing of the plane and then the Russians’ reaction to it, which is, as the president said, rather than stepping back, they doubled down in what they’re doing in Ukraine.

And apparently the publics’ reactions in these Northern European countries in particular, mostly European victims, seeing their bodies left rotting in the field, people rifling through their possessions, I mean, it really changed public attitudes. And key to this was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, one, was responding to public sentiment, and also even the German business federation came together and said, well, we recognize we’re going to have to have sanctions.

The other thing was that the E.U. felt in a way Putin had called their bluff. When they met in the middle of the month, they said to Putin, unless you stop grant access to the crash site, unless you stop shifting men and materiel and weapons across the border, we’re going to do this.

Well, he didn’t, and so they did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Kiev, the leaders of Ukraine’s government, they’re now watching their European neighbors do this. What’s the reaction?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, publicly, the Ukrainian foreign minister was here today and he said of course this is terrific.

But I talked to a well-placed official in the government in Kiev late this afternoon and he said, well, you know, it’s good, but he said, sometimes in an illness the medicine depends on being administered at the right stage. If this had been done in May, it might have helped. He said, and maybe it will persuade the Russian elite that this is a dangerous path to go down.

But this officials said, many of us believe Putin has already made the decision to a full-scale invasion. Now, U.S. officials don’t share that sentiment, though they are also of course preparing for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There has been talk w...

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