Five years of anti-Russian sanctions: “It’s time to take the first step”

On Friday, the representatives of four political parties discussed Russian sanctions in the Bundestag. They came to the conclusion that the expediency of sanctions is now being questioned more and more often.

Five years of anti-Russian sanctions: “It's time to take the first step”

This is not an “anniversary”, as Michael Harms, chairman of the board of the Eastern Committee of German Business, said at the beginning of the discussion. On the contrary, this is a break that should motivate a critical rethinking. The conference “Five years of Russian sanctions – how do we get out of the mutual blockade?”, opened by him, was held in the halls of the German Bundestag.

Harms also agreed with the second organizer, Klaus Ernst, chairman of the economy and energy committee.

Harms talked about the difficulties associated with sanctions, because they are especially noticeable for German small and medium-sized enterprises, it is difficult for them to enter the Russian market. The number of German companies that are still operating on the Russian market is estimated by Harms at 5000.

Between the lines this sounds as follows: because of the sanctions, there are fewer of them. In his speech, he also talks about the reorientation of Russian partners, who are increasingly turning away from the Germans due to a lack of legal certainty and are focused on doing business with China. 

Although Germany still ranks second among Russian trading partners, relations with China are still in the first place for Russia. The sanctions regime is incompatible with the planning of trade relations.

Economic issues also appeared in the dialogue: according to estimates, Germany lost up to $ 300 billion by the end of 2018 due to anti-Russian sanctions.

It was agreed among those present that the sanctions were harmful. After the main speeches, representatives of four parties in the Bundestag – two from the opposition, two from the ruling factions – gave a political assessment of the need to continue the sanctions policy.

FDP representative Sandra Wieser believes that sanctions were once a necessary means of pressure because they, in her words, were a response to Russia’s “flagrant violations of international law” in Ukraine. Although the imposition of sanctions and trade restrictions is actually contrary to the spirit of free democrats. However, “the lifting of sanctions is actually possible if, for example, progress is made in the Minsk process”.

Bernd Westphal of the SPD was also one of the supporters of the sanctions at the time, but now he is much clearer in favor of lifting them. He refers to the tradition of world politics, which is “politically arrested” in the SPD.

“We Europeans should be more independent and sovereign”, – he said, hoping that the Federal Government would turn to the new line of French President Emanuel Macron.

Recently, he put the issue of Russia on the agenda. After five years of sanctions, it’s time to take the first step. A concrete implementation of the EU common line is possible within the framework of the EU Council together with France.

Friedrich Metz of the Eastern Committee, who led the conference, expressed his doubts and did not comment on the situation. Former union activist Klaus Ernst from Franconia referred to his professional experience and said that trade relations play an important role throughout the world.

He estimates Germany’s chances of achieving lower EU sanctions as high. Germany suffered the most from sanctions, this should be taken into account. He puts the lifting of sanctions in connection with EU policies against US extraterritorial sanctions.

“This sword of Damocles hung over several European companies for several months. To avoid this, unilateral sanctions must be lifted”, – he said.

At the conference, and then in a conversation with RT, Ernst said that the sanctions did not reach their goal.

Ernst questioned the legality of the sanctions. His argument was: they are permissible only if they fulfill their mission. If they do not, they lose their legitimacy. In an interview, he talked about the first sanctions – the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation.

“It is incredible to demand that Russia respect international law if it is violated”, – he said.

However, as a historical example, he did not mention “Kosovo” or Iraq, but the circumstances of the negotiations between the EU and Ukraine under the Agreement about the association, excluding Russia, six years ago.

Professor Herwig Roggemann describes the sanctions as “very problematic from the point of view of international law”. These questions have been rejected in recent months due to  the “hope for a new Ukrainian president”.

However, according to him, the hopes were not realized.

In a statement, Peter Ramsauer of the CDU suggests gradually reducing sanctions. Ernst, the “host of the conference”, after the end of the event summed up some of the results. For the first time in such a broad form in the Bundestag it was said about the lifting of sanctions.


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