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International sanctions during the Ukrainian crisis

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International sanctions during the Ukrainian crisis

The Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which began in late February 2014, prompted a number of governments to apply sanctions against individuals, businesses and officials from Russia and Ukraine. Sanctions were approved by the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries and international organisations. Russia has responded with sanctions against a number of countries, including a total ban on food imports from the EU, United States, Norway, Canada and Australia.


The sanctions contributed to the collapse of the Russian ruble and the Russian financial crisis (2014–present). They also caused economic damage to a number of EU countries, with the total losses estimated at €100 billion.

According to Ukrainian officials, the sanctions forced Russia to change its approach towards Ukraine and undermined the Russian military advances in the region. Representatives of these countries say that they will lift sanctions against Russia only after Moscow fulfils the Minsk II agreements.


In response to the Crimean crisis and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, some governments and international organisations, led by the United States and European Union, imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses. As the unrest expanded into other parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, and later escalated into the ongoing war in the Donbass region, the scope of the sanctions increased. The Russian government responded in kind, with sanctions against some Canadian and American individuals and, in August 2014, with a total ban on food imports from the European Union, United States, Norway, Canada and Australia.

First round of sanctions: March/April 2014

On 6 March 2014, the U.S. president Barack Obama, invoking, inter alia, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act, signed an executive order that declared a national emergency and ordered sanctions, including travel bans and the freezing of their U.S. assets, against not-yet-specified individuals, later to be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury (in consultation with the Secretary of State) who had "asserted governmental authority in the Crimean region without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine" and whose actions were found, inter alia, to "undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine".

The U.S., the EU and Canada introduced the first round of specifically targeted sanctions on 17 March 2014, the day after the Crimean referendum and a few hours before the Russian president Vladimir Putin, by signing a decree recognizing Crimea as an independent state, laid the groundwork for its annexation by Russia.

The principal EU sanction that day aimed to "prevent the entry into (…) their territories of the natural persons responsible for actions which undermine (…) the territorial integrity (…) of Ukraine, and of natural persons associated with them, as listed in the Annex". The EU imposed its sanctions "in the absence of de-escalatory steps by the Russian Federation" in order to bring an end to the violence in eastern Ukraine. The EU at the same time clarified that the Union "remains ready to reverse its decisions and reengage with Russia when it starts contributing actively and without ambiguities to finding a solution to the Ukrainian crisis". These 17 March sanctions were the most wide-ranging sanctions used against Russia since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Japan also announced sanctions against Russia. These included the suspension of talks regarding military matters, space, investment, and visa requirements. A few days thereafter, the US government announced it was expanding the sanctions.

On 19 March, Australia imposed sanctions against Russia after annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The Australian government imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on those who have been instrumental in the Russian threat to Ukraine's sovereignty. The Australian sanctions were expanded on 21 May.

In early April, Albania, Iceland and Montenegro, as well as Ukraine, decided to follow the EU and impose the same restrictions and travel bans issued by the EU on 17 March. Igor Lukšić, foreign minister of Montenegro, said that despite a "centuries old-tradition" of good ties with Russia, joining the EU in imposing sanctions had "always been the only reasonable choice". Slightly earlier in March, Moldova had decided to follow the EU and impose the same set of sanctions against former president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and a number of former Ukrainian officials, as announced by the EU on 5 March. In response to the sanctions introduced by the United States and the EU, the State Duma (Russian parliament) unanimously passed a resolution asking for all members of the Duma to be included on the sanctions list. The sanctions were expanded to include prominent Russian businessmen and women a few days later.

Second round of sanctions: April 2014

On 28 April, the United States imposed a ban on business transactions within its territory on seven Russian officials, including Igor Sechin, executive chairman of the Russian state oil company Rosneft, and seventeen Russian companies. On the same day, the European Union issued travel bans against a further fifteen individuals. In connection with this, the EU issued a paper stating the aims of the sanctions. The EU states that their "sanctions are not punitive, but designed to bring about a change in policy or activity by the target country, entities or individuals. Measures are therefore always targeted at such policies or activities, the means to conduct them and those responsible for them. At the same time, the EU makes every effort to minimise adverse consequences for the civilian population or for legitimate activities".

Third round of sanctions: 2014–present

In response to the escalating War in Donbass, on 17 July 2014 the United States extended its transactions ban to two major Russian energy firms, Rosneft and Novatek, and to two banks, Gazprombank and Vnesheconombank. United States also urged EU leaders to join the Third Wave leading EU to start drafting European Sanctions a day before. On 25 July, the EU officially expanded its sanctions to an additional fifteen individuals and eighteen entities, followed by an additional eight individuals and three entities on 30 July. On 31 July 2014 the EU introduced the third round of sanctions which included an embargo on arms and related material, and embargo on dual-use goods and technology intended for military use or a military end user, a ban on imports of arms and related material, controls on export of equipment for the oil industry, and a restriction on the issuance of and trade in certain bonds, equity or similar financial instruments on a maturity greater than 90 days (On September 2014 lowered to 30 days)

On 24 July 2014, Canada announced sanctions targeting Russian arms, energy and financial entities.

On 5 August 2014, Japan decided to freeze the assets of "individuals and groups supporting the separation of Crimea from Ukraine" and restrict imports from Crimea. Japan will additionally freeze funds for new projects in Russia in line with the policy of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

On 8 August 2014 Australian prime minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia is "working towards" tougher sanctions against Russia, which should be implemented in the coming weeks.

On 12 August 2014 Norway decided to adopt the tougher sanctions against Russia that were imposed by the EU and the United States on 12 August 2014. Although Norway is not a part of the EU, the Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende said that it would impose restrictions similar to the EU's 1 August sanctions. Russian state-owned banks will be banned from taking long-term and mid-term loans, arms exports will be banned and supplies of equipment, technology and assistance to the Russian oil sector will be prohibited.

On 14 August 2014 Switzerland expanded sanctions against Russia over its threat to Ukraine's sovereignty. Swiss government added 26 more Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians to the list of sanctioned Russian citizens that was first announced after Russia's annexation of Crimea. On 27 August 2014 Switzerland further expanded their sanctions against Russia. The Swiss government said it is expanding measures to prevent the circumvention of sanctions relating to the situation in Ukraine to include the third round of sanctions imposed by the EU in July. The Swiss government also stated that five Russian banks (Sberbank, VTB, Vnesheconombank, Gazprombank and Rosselkhoz) will require authorisation to issue long-term financial instruments in Switzerland.

On 14 August 2014 Ukraine passed a law introducing Ukrainian sanctions against Russia. The law includes 172 individuals and 65 entities in Russia and other countries for supporting and financing "terrorism" in Ukraine, though actual sanctions would need approval from Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council.

On 28 August 2014 Switzerland amended its sanctions to include the sanctions imposed by the EU in July.

On 11 September 2014, US President Barack Obama said that the United States would join the EU in imposing tougher sanctions on Russia's financial, energy and defence sectors. On 12 September 2014, the United States imposed sanctions on Russia's largest bank (Sberbank), a major arms maker and arctic (Rostec), deepwater and shale exploration by its biggest oil companies (Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegas and Rosneft). Sberbank and Rostec will have limited ability to access the US debt markets. The sanction on the oil companies seek to ban co-operation with Russian oil firms on energy technology and services by companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc.

On 24 September 2014, Japan imposed additional sanctions against Russia by banning the issuance of securities by five Russian banks (Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, Rosselkhozbank and development bank VEB) and also tightened restrictions on defence exports to Russia.

On 3 October 2014, US Vice President Joe Biden said that "It was America's leadership and the president of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up and take economic hits to impose costs" and added that "And the results have been massive capital flight from Russia, a virtual freeze on foreign direct investment, a ruble at an all-time low against the dollar, and the Russian economy teetering on the brink of recession. We don't want Russia to collapse. We want Russia to succeed. But Putin has to make a choice. These asymmetrical advances on another country cannot be tolerated. The international system will collapse if they are."

On 18 December 2014 the European Union banned some investments in Crimea, halting support for Russian Federation Black Sea oil and gas exploration and stopping European companies from purchasing real estate or companies in Crimea, or offering tourism services. On 19 December 2014, US President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russian-occupied Crimea by executive order prohibiting exports of US goods and services to the region.

On 27 January 2015 the new government of Greece under Alexis Tsipras were preparing to veto further European sanctions on Russia, but agreed to extend the term of existing sanctions until further talks later in the year. Some member countries, including Italy, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Austria, were split on further sanctions, but have nominated to go down the sanctions route. Notwithstanding, during the Foreign Affairs Council on 29 January 2015, a unanimous EU condemned "the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, especially in Mariupol, and the escalation of fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions." The foreign ministers of the EU added that "The Council expects Russia to exert its influence and to induce the separatists to fully live up to the commitments under the Minsk agreements. These include notably the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the security zone as urgent first steps." The EU agreed to extend existing restrictive measures and called for a proposal within a week on additional targeted sanctions, for a decision at the Foreign Affairs Council on 9 February. On this date the Council adopted "additional listings concerning separatists in Eastern Ukraine and their supporters in Russia". These consist of an asset freeze and a travel ban on 19 persons and 9 entities involved in action against Ukraine's territorial integrity. To "give space for current diplomatic efforts", the Council put the entry into force of the measures on hold until Monday 16 February 2015, in relation to the Minsk summit taking place on 11 February.

On February 16, 2015, the EU increased its sanction list to cover 151 individuals and 37 entities. Australia indicated that it would follow the EU in a new round of sanctions. If the EU sanctioned new Russian and Ukrainian entities then Australia would keep their sanctions in line with the EU.

On February 18, 2015, Canada increased its sanctions list by 37 Russian citizens and 17 Russian entities. Rosneft and Anatoly Antonov, deputy minister of defense became sanctioned. In June 2015 Canada added three individuals and 14 entities, including Gazprom. Media suggested the sanctions were delayed because Gazprom was a main sponsor of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup then concluding in Canada.

In June 2015, the G7 collectively extended sanctions already in place for an additional six months. On 21 December 2015, the EU extended economic sanctions against Russia until 31 July 2016. France announced in January 2016 that it wants to lift the sanctions in this summer. Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned the possible lifting of sanctions.

In June 2016, the French Senate voted to urge its government to "gradually and partially" lift the EU sanctions on Russia, although the vote was non-binding.

In September 2016, the EU extended its sanctions, for another 6 months, against Russian officials and pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine. An EU asset freeze on ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was upheld by the bloc's courts.

On March 13, 2017 the EU extended until September 2017 the asset freezes and travel bans for 150 people linked to the territorial dispute. The sanctions include former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and senior members of his administration.

Sanctions over Ukrainians held by Russia

In April 2016, Lithuania sanctioned 46 individuals who were involved in the detention and sentencing of Ukrainian citizens Nadiya Savchenko, Oleh Sentsov, and Olexandr Kolchenko. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said that his country wanted to "focus attention on the unacceptable and cynical violations of international law and human rights in Russia. [...] It would be more effective if the blacklist became Europe-wide. We hope to start such a discussion."

Sanctions against Crimea

The United States, Canada, the European Union and other European countries (including Ukraine) imposed economic sanctions specifically targeting Crimea. Sanctions prohibit the sale, supply, transfer, or export of goods and technology in several sectors, including services directly related to tourism and infrastructure. They list seven ports where cruise ships cannot dock. Sanctions against Crimean individuals include travel bans and asset freezes. Visa and MasterCard have stopped service in Crimea between December 2014 and April 2015.

Consequences and assessment

The sanctions introduced both by and against Russia slowed down the trade between Russia and EU, causing damage to both Russian and European economy.

Effect on Russia

The economic sanctions are generally believed to have helped weaken the Russian economy and to intensify the challenges that Russia was already facing.

A 2015 data analysis confirmed Russia’s entry into a recession, with negative GDP of -2.2% for the first quarter of 2015, as compared to the first quarter of 2014. Further, the combined effect of the sanctions and the rapid decline in oil prices in 2014 has caused significant downward pressure on the value of the ruble and flight of capital out of Russia. At the same time, the sanctions on access to financing have forced Russia to use part of its foreign exchange reserves to prop up the economy. These events forced the Central Bank of Russia to stop supporting the value of the ruble and increase interest rates.

Russia’s ban on western imports had the additional effect on these challenging events as the embargo led to higher food prices and further inflation in addition to the effects of decreased value of the ruble which had already raised the price of imported goods.

Effect on US and EU countries

The losses of EU have been estimated as €100 billion, with Italy in particular losing over €1.25 billion. The German business sector, with around 30,000 workplaces depending on trade with Russia, also reported being affected by the sanctions. The sanctions had an impact on numerous European market sectors, including energy, agriculture, and aviation. In March 2016, the Finnish farmers’ union MTK stated that the Russian sanctions and falling prices have put farmers under tremendous pressure. Finland’s Natural Resources Institute LUKE has estimated that last year farmers saw their incomes shrink by 40 percent compared to the previous year.

In February 2015, Exxon Mobil reported losing about $1 billion due to sanctions.

Opposition within Europe

Italy, Hungary, Greece, France, some German states, Cyprus and Slovakia are among the EU states most skeptical about the sanctions and have called for review of sanctions. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated that Europe “shot itself in the foot” by introducing economic sanctions. In the words of former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov: “I don’t know how Russia is affected by the sanctions, but Bulgaria is affected severely”; Czech President Miloš Zeman and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico also argued that the sanctions should be lifted.

The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that Greece would seek to mend ties between Russia and EU through European institutions. Tsipras also said that Greece was not in favour of Western sanctions imposed on Russia, adding that it risked the start of another Cold War.

A number of business figures in France and Germany have opposed the sanctions. The German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel suggested that the Ukrainian crisis should be resolved by dialogue rather than economic confrontation, later adding that the reinforcement of anti-Russian sanctions will “provoke an even more dangerous situation… in Europe”.

Paolo Gentiloni, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the sanctions “are not the solution to the conflict”. Some companies, most notably Siemens Gas Turbine Technologies LLC, were reported to attempt bypassing the sanctions and exporting power generation turbines to the annexed Crimea.

In August 2015, the British think tank Bow Group released a report on sanctions, calling for the removal of them. According to the report, the sanctions have had "adverse consequences for European and American businesses, and if they are prolonged... they can have even more deleterious effects in the future"; the potential cost of sanctions for the Western countries has been estimated as over $700 billion.

Sanctions by Russia

Three days after the first sanctions against Russia, on 20 March 2014, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a list of reciprocal sanctions against certain American citizens, which consisted of ten names, including Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, Senator John McCain, and two advisers to Barack Obama. The ministry said in the statement, "Treating our country in such way, as Washington could have already ascertained, is inappropriate and counterproductive", and reiterated that sanctions against Russia would have a boomerang effect. On 24 March, Russia banned thirteen Canadian officials, including members of the Parliament of Canada, from entering the country.

On 6 August 2014, Putin signed a decree "On the use of specific economic measures", which mandated an effective embargo for a one-year period on imports of most of the agricultural products whose country of origin had either "adopted the decision on introduction of economic sanctions in respect of Russian legal and (or) physical entities, or joined same". The next day, the Russian government ordinance was adopted and published with immediate effect, which specified the banned items as well as the countries of provenance: the United States, the EU, Norway, Canada and Australia, including a ban on fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports. Prior to the embargo, food exports from the EU to Russia were worth around €11.8 billion, or 10% of the total EU exports to Russia. Food exports from the United States to Russia were worth around €972 million. Food exports from Canada were worth around €385 million.

Russia had previously taken a position that it would not engage in "tit-for-tat" sanctions, but, announcing the embargo, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, "There is nothing good in sanctions and it was not an easy decision to take, but we had to do it." He indicated that sanctions relating to the transport manufacturing sector were also being considered. United States Treasury spokesperson David Cohen said that sanctions affecting access to food were "not something that the US and its allies would ever do".

On the same day, Russia announced a ban on the use of its airspace by Ukrainian aircraft.

In January 2015, it became clear that Russian authorities would not allow a Member of the European Parliament, Lithuanian MEP Gabrielius Landsbergis, make a visit to Moscow due to political reasons.

In March 2015, Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete and Speaker of the Polish Senate Bogdan Borusewicz were both denied entry into Russia under the existing sanctions regime, and were thus unable to attend the funeral of murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

After a member of the German Bundestag was denied entry into Russia in May 2015, Russia released a blacklist to European Union governments of 89 politicians and officials from the EU who are not allowed entry into Russia under the present sanctions regime. Russia asked for the blacklist to not be made public. The list is said to include eight Swedes, as well as two MPs and two MEPs from the Netherlands. Finland's national broadcaster Yle published a leaked German version of the list.

In response to this publication, British politician Malcolm Rifkind (whose name was included on the Russian list) commented: "It shows we are making an impact because they wouldn’t have reacted unless they felt very sore at what had happened. Once sanctions were extended, they've had a major impact on the Russian economy. This has happened at a time when the oil price has collapsed and therefore a main source of revenue for Mr Putin has disappeared. That’s pretty important when it comes to his attempts to build up his military might and to force his neighbours to do what they’re told." He added, “If there had to be such a ban, I am rather proud to be on it – I’d be rather miffed if I wasn’t.” Another person on the list, Swedish MEP Gunnar Hökmark, remarked that he was proud to be on the list and said "a regime that does this does it because it is afraid, and at heart it is weak".

With regard to Russia′s entry ban on European politicians, a spokesperson from the EU said, "The list with 89 names has now been shared by the Russian authorities. We don't have any other information on legal basis, criteria and process of this decision. We consider this measure as totally arbitrary and unjustified, especially in the absence of any further clarification and transparency."

On 29 June 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree that extended the embargo on the countries already sanctioned until 31 December 2017.

List of sanctioned individuals

Sanctioned individuals include notable and high-level central government personnel on all sides. In addition, companies suggested for possible involvement in the controversial issues have also been sanctioned.


International sanctions during the Ukrainian crisis Wikipedia

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