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EU sanctions against Russia extended to 31 January 2016; additional sanctions planned

On 19 June, the European Council extended EU sanctions against Russia pursuant to Council Decision (CFSP 2015/959).  This follows a series of increasingly coordinated actions by the US and EU, such as the joint statement produced at the G7 meeting two weeks ago, to show a united front against continued Russian activity related to Ukraine.  With this extension, EU sanctions will remain in place until January 31, 2016 unless there is a complete implementation of the Minsk Agreements before then.

However, looking forward, US and EU policymakers recently leaked to the media that they are pre-planning a series of coordinated sanctions against Russia should the situation deteriorate. These new measures could include new travel bans on Russian government officials and business leaders, but could escalate significantly to more broad-based sanctions against the Russian energy and financial sectors. In particular, these sanctions could target the sale of petroleum products from Russia and Russia-related financial transactions. Some western leaders are also supportive of utilizing these new sanctions should the status quo remain unchanged for much longer.

In a break from past practice, these range of sanctions options are being pre-approved by the relevant US and EU institutions so that they can be deployed quickly in response to Russian actions. This is an attempt to overcome historic delays in the creation and deployment of new sanctions. US and EU leaders are especially worried about reports that Russia might support a new military offensive in Ukraine or elsewhere over the summer.

This ratcheting up of pressure on Russia, including recently announced plans to pre-position U.S. heavy military equipment in NATO countries, is aimed at more clearly communicating to Russia the potential consequences of Russian action. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Europe this week to discuss with his NATO counterparts plans to manage long-term tensions with Russia.

Sergei Ivanov, Vladimir Putin’s Chief of Staff, has responded to these moves by saying that any increase in U.S. and NATO military capabilities on its periphery, including deploying missile defense systems, would be seen as antagonistic towards Russia and warrant a response. Russia also vowed to extend, and possibly expand, counter-sanctions against the EU.

We will continue to provide updates on US and EU sanctions policy as these developments unfold.