European Union sanctions placed on Russia must ensure that the country “will feel the pain,” Irish EU affairs minister Thomas Byrne said on Feb. 22.
“We’ve got to ensure that whatever happens, that Russia certainly feels the pain … and that’s going to happen,” Byrne told reporters. “Today, what has happened is a grotesque breach of international law, it’s a grotesque breach of the sovereignty of Ukraine.”
Byrne’s comments come as the EU repeatedly warned it is ready to impose “massive consequences” on Moscow’s economy if Russia invades Ukraine, but has so far not launched such sanctions due to potential geopolitical consequences, particularly the EU’s close energy and trade ties with Russia.
According to Eurostat, Russia is the fifth-largest trade partner of the EU, with imports of $177.9 billion and exports of $104.1 billion (pdf).
A number of EU countries, such as Germany and the Czech Republic, also have a high reliance on Russian natural gas, and Russia remained the largest supplier of natural gas and petroleum oils to the EU in 2021, according to Eurostat.
However, in a brief statement on Monday, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they “condemn in the strongest possible terms the decision by the Russian president to proceed with the recognition of the non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine as independent entities.”
“This step is a blatant violation of international law as well as of the Minsk agreements. The Union will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.”
The statement came after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that the country will recognize the independent sovereignty of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
The two areas in Ukraine’s Donbas region are held by Russian-backed separatist groups. Putin also signed a decree that authorized Russian troops to be sent into the area for so-called “peacekeeping operations.”
Russia has amassed up to 190,000 troops as well as heavy weapons near Ukraine’s borders but denies planning to invade Ukraine.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also told Bloomberg Television on Monday that the EU is ready to impose sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, adding that hopes remain for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
The sanctions that the EU is poised to launch would have “a deep impact on Russia and the Russian economy and on the Russian interest,” Le Maire said.
“One point must be very clear—if there is any attack from Russia to Ukraine, we have a set of sanctions that are still available and that would hit the Russian people, the Russian state, and Russian economic interests,” he said.
However, other EU members have cautioned against imposing strong sanctions on energy imports.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose country imports 90 percent of its gas requirements, with Russia a key supplier, told a news conference in Rome, “We are discussing sanctions with the EU and in the course of these discussions we have made our position known, that they should be concentrated on narrow sectors without including energy.”
Meanwhile, the United States on Monday announced sanctions on Ukraine’s contested areas.
The White House issued a statement saying it had “anticipated” such a move from Putin and announced immediate sanctions against the two regions of Ukraine through an executive order from President Joe Biden, which he is expected to sign on Tuesday.
“President Biden will soon issue an Executive Order that will prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in the statement.
“This E.O. will also provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine … We will also soon announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments,” the statement reads.