Can Europe go much further in its economic sanctions against Russia?

As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went to Kiev on Friday, the Twenty-seven are still hardening their economic tone against Moscow with an embargo on Russian coal started Thursday. It’s the first time the European Union boycott the energy produced in Russia, a decision that was unthinkable a few weeks ago.

Is this proof that Brussels is not done with punishment yet? Moscow’s enthusiasm for Ukraine, and that Brussels still has a lot of leverage to try and stop Vladimir Putin? Not really. Because if the sanction is symbolically strong, it can only provoke a shrug in the Kremlin. Coal imported from Europe weighs very little in Russian exports, especially when compared to oil and gas. Two energies that Europe “strangely” does not want to touch. Moscow in particular accounts for 40% of gas imports into Europe, far ahead of Norway (18%) or Algeria (12%).

Continue, but at what cost?

Conversely, this coal boycott could symbolize that Europe is facing a wall. † Economic, we can go no further except to endanger ourselves,” said Jacques Sapir, director of studies at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences. Boycotting coal has little impact on Europe. Gas or oil is another level of difficulty: “If Europe gives up Russian gas, 30 to 40% of German industry will be shut down”, Jacques Sapir takes as an example.

Europe, which still has no plans to deploy military personnel in Ukraine, has been betting on Russia’s economic suffocation since the start of the conflict. A tactic that finds its limits by: the interdependence of the two blocks, notes Sébastien Jean, economist specializing in international trade and director of research at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae): “The purchases of Russian energy by Europeans represent a stream of income that permeates the country’s economy. want to choke”. In other words, to effectively suffocate Russia, Europe must suffocate itself. And again, Jacques Sapir specifies, “such a boycott would hurt Europeans more than Russia.”

No Russian suffocation

If Brussels turns off the oil tap, Moscow should easily find a buyer elsewhere. “It can be more complicated for the gas, less mobile and very dependent on the gas pipeline system, admits Sébastien Jean. But Russian gas is even less replaceable for Europe than its oil, so it’s unlikely to be boycotted. †

Seriously complicating matters. “Russia will not be suffocated, that’s for sure. The impact of the current sanctions is significant, but not catastrophic,” the expert continues. Jacques Sapir recalls that the ruble has returned to its pre-invasion level. And drive the point home: “As it stands, Russia can hold out for a number of years. Anyway, no war never stopped with economic sanctions alone.”

act anyway

Does the Vingt-Sept 27 have no other cards left in hand? There are other options, but here again they are more symbolic than really limiting. “A few small important measures are still possible: targeting other products whose export to the Russians would be prohibited, especially technologies that could hinder them, Sébastien Jean supports. Expand the list of people targeted by the sanctions, the list of banks…”

Véronique Riches-Flores, economist and founder of RichesFlores Research, an economic analysis and forecasting company, laments the reticence of Europeans: “Russian diplomats have only just been thanked by the countries of the continent. Sanctions, even financial ones, only marginally affect Russian interests’, she shows as an example. For the specialist: “yes, Europe potentially has a lot of leeway, provided the conflict with Russia is accepted. An option that the EU is avoiding for the time being. Economist’s conclusion: “To spare our interests, certainly vital ones, our ability to put real pressure on Vladimir Putin is very limited. †

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