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West works out division of labor on Russia

March 21, 2014|By Paul Richter
  • People wave Russian flags as fireworks burst above the central square in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.
People wave Russian flags as fireworks burst above the central square in… (Yuri Kochetkov / EPA )

WASHINGTON – In their response to Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Western officials are working out a division of labor: Washington is taking the lead on tough sanctions, while Europe focuses on drawing Ukraine away from Moscow’s political orbit.

This approach has become apparent this week, say Western officials and analysts, as Western governments have huddled to figure out how to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from grabbing the remainder of Ukraine and encroaching on other countries in Eastern Europe.

The Obama administration this week announced two rounds of sanctions on Russia that have blacklisted some members of Putin’s inner circle and sent Russian stocks tumbling. The Europeans, divided and unwilling to risk the fallout to economies that are much more intertwined with Russia’s, have imposed milder sanctions.

But the European Union on Friday signed an “association agreement” with Ukraine that is aimed at drawing the country toward the West, which is the direction the polls indicate most Ukrainians want to go.

Cliff Kupchan, with the Eurasia Group risk consulting firm, describes the approach as a “two-track, tag team arrangement.”

While the Europeans have lagged Washington on the penalty side, “they can start to pull Ukraine politically, economically and militarily toward them,” said Kupchan, a former State Department official. Control of Ukraine “is what Putin really cares about, so what the EU is doing pokes the bear’s belly more than sanctions on Putin’s buddies.”

It remains to be seen, of course, how far Europe will draw Ukraine’s new government. Ukraine is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and corrupt past governments have caused deep frustration in Europe.

But a senior European official insisted that Europe, which has pledged about $15 billion to a Ukraine bailout package, is committed to the task. While European governments are leery of quickly adding more Eastern nations to the European Union, they are agreed on the importance of helping Ukraine develop along the Western pattern.

“There is a not a ‘Ukraine fatigue,’" the official said.


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