What tack should the EU take vis-à-vis Moscow?

The EU foreign ministers have decided not to impose further sanctions against Moscow for the time being. At a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday they did, however, harshly condemn the Russian airstrikes in Aleppo. And last week Putin cancelled a visit to Paris after Hollande described Moscow's actions in Syria as war crimes. The press is also divided about the right strategy to adopt vis-à-vis Russia.

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Handelsblatt (DE) /

Sanctions that really hurt Russia needed

Far harsher measures than those implemented so far must be taken against Russia now, Handelsblatt demands:

“It is simply false to claim that sanctions achieve nothing. This is not true for Iran, South Africa under Apartheid or Putin's empire. … The sanctions haven't had any political impact on the Kremlin, but they are certainly contributing to the growing discontent of the people over high inflation. That has to do with the fact that the punitive measures taken so far in reaction to Moscow's Ukraine intervention are more of a symbolic nature. If you want to hurt Russia's leadership you have to throw the Russian banks out of the Swift payment system and ban all deliveries of high-tech military equipment as well as the construction of the planned new Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2. ... Are the deaths of 250,000 people trapped in Syria's eastern Aleppo worth putting our relations with Russia into permafrost mode? At any rate there are definitely alternatives to simply going on watching, 'harshly condemning' and 'calling for ceasefires'.”

Le Point (FR) /

Integration more effective than punishment

Moscow's hunger for power can't be restrained by progressive exclusion, political scientist Bertrand Badie counters in Le Point:

“Faced with an arrogant Russia that is clearly suffering from its much touted loss of power, the repeated sanctions and successive avoidance measures have done nothing to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria. Excluded from the G8 - now the G7 -, subject to import and export bans that have wreaked havoc on our own agriculture, the empire of the tsars is taking advantage of its forced exclusion to regain its lost power. History shows that only well-reflected integration can effectively counter this sort of appetite. We're still a far cry from that, and have the worst to fear regarding the future. In the meantime diplomacy must take up the slack.”

Duma (BG) /

Blocked accounts an attack on freedom of expression

British bank NatWest has announced that the accounts of Russian state-run broadcaster Russia Today will be closed as of mid-December, without giving any explanations for the move. The pro-Russian daily Duma sees this as an attack on freedom of expression and press freedom:

“Thirty years ago the USSR, which the British so detested, blocked the reception of 'enemy propaganda' using jamming stations. Now the roles are clearly being reversed. … The rules of the West apply only as long as they suit the West. As soon as they start going against the West's interests they are promptly ignored and it acts as if they had never existed. … That is the reality. We need to confront it and stop listening to fairy tales about the good Western world. As long as you have something you can threaten the Western world with, it can be kept in check. You can even sign peace agreements with it - for a time. But once the threat has disappeared you have to put up with its double standards and even act as if you like being played for a fool.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Only forcefulness can help againt Russia

Russia knows all the tricks so the EU must be resolute, Jyllands-Posten urges:

“The Russian attempts to undermine the EU and Nato are taking place on several levels. ... Russia has developed a systematic strategy for exerting influence which dates back to the Cold War. You find a useful idiot, if possible several, who act publicly in a way that suits Russia's plans. ... Fortunately it now seems that Donald Trump will not be the next US president. We can't know for sure if he would have been Putin's useful idiot or stooge, but the fact is that when he started questioning Nato's basic tenets Trump was playing with very dangerous fire. ... Experience has shown that Russia only understands one language. And it must be direct, purposeful, consistent and free of Western shilly-shallying.”

La Tribune (FR) /

There can be no negotiating with war criminals

Those who call for negotiations with Moscow are on the wrong track, political scientist Nicolas Tenzer writes in La Tribune:

“How can you trust a leader who is guilty of the worst war crimes? Can you be sure that on top of his crimes he will not also be guilty of lying? Or that any negotiations won't ultimately give him the chance to commit more crimes or to gain strength before relapsing to his old ways? Any such negotiations are nothing but a delusion, an operation with no future, a guarantee of weakness. We already saw that with the negotiations between the US and Russia, which led not only to the US's strategic debacle in Syria, but also to the golden opportunity provided by Barack Obama to commit more crimes.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

EU must be cool-headed but firm with Kremlin

The best course would be to extend the EU's sanctions against Russia, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung believes:

“No one in the West has a coherent concept for how to respond to Russia's destruction-based policies without running the risk of having things escalate out of control. The Kremlin is banking on this helplessness. ... But even if this looks like powerlessness, in view of the war hysteria being spread by the state-run Russian media it's important not to answer the Kremlin with its own rhetoric. That does not mean appeasement: even cool-headed answers can be formulated in a firm and unequivocal manner. These must also soon include new sanctions against Russia. Not because there is any realistic hope that they will change Russian policy, but to let the Kremlin know that it will have to pay an increasingly heavy price for its actions.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Silence on massacre in Aleppo unacceptable

The EU must show solidarity with the French president, political scientist Vittorio E. Parsi insists in Il Sole 24 Ore:

“The French position (which should be supported by the other states of the EU) is simple and coherent: Putin's support for the Assad regime must not be allowed to go as far as providing military and political backing for the deliberate massacre of the civilian population in the east of Aleppo. This is no longer about diverging interests and positions regarding the fate of the Syrian president and his regime in Syria once the civil war ends. It is about making it clear that such an approach is a crime against humanity that inevitably has repercussions on relations between France (and Europe) and Russia. … As unpopular as Hollande may be, he is right to stress that Russia's course in Syria is absolutely unacceptable. And let no one here in Europe start with the 'yes-butting'.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

Diplomacy means also talking to pariahs

Hollande shouldn't try to play the moraliser in his dealings with Putin, L'Opinion criticises:

“None of the major crises can be solved without Russia, much less against its will. Diplomacy isn't just about talking with one's friends: it's about talking with everyone who counts, no matter how unlikeable they may be. Evoking war crimes and the International Criminal Court in connection with the Kremlin, the way Hollande has done, is something the director of an NGO can do, not a head of state. When political statements take refuge behind moral exhortations, all they express is powerlessness. As a major French diplomatic figure once said: 'France's disengagement can no longer be denied'. The current Franco-Russian debacle is a lamentable illustration of just that.”

Kurier (AT) /

Putin making a fool of the West

The cancellation is a sign of Putin's strength, Kurier writes:

“The whole affair looks like a game of cat and mouse with the roles reversed: the West is the half-powerless cat that wants to bring Putin to his senses; the Russian is the powerful mouse, ever more brazenly making a fool of his hunter. The sanctions the West imposed because of the annexation of Crimea made little impression on this modern-day tsar; on the contrary, for a year now he has been ruthlessly bombing for Syrian president Assad, more intensely than ever in recent weeks. … On the other side we have a criminally weak US foreign policy under Barack Obama and 'sanctions yes/sanctions no/talks please' babble from the Europeans while the Russian president laughs up his sleeve: he can dance through world history as he pleases right now.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Today's Russia is not the Soviet Union

West Germany's Ostpolitik in the 1970s and 1980s, aimed at defusing the tensions with the Soviet Union, has repeatedly been mentioned in the discussion about how to deal with Russia. But those who believe this is the way to go once more are overlooking a crucial difference, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung points out:

“The Ostpolitik contributed to peace in Europe and facilitated interpersonal contact, but at the same time it was based on the desire to maintain the stability of the dictatorships beyond the Iron Curtain. The fundamental difference between the Soviet Union in its later days and Putin's regime is that the latter is not trying to maintain a sphere of influence but to regain it. … In a peaceful competition with the West, however, Russia is as hopelessly inferior as the Soviet Union was back then. … Putin wants to compensate for this disadvantage by trying to weaken his opponent from within, by acting more aggressively and by showing a great willingness to use brute force and take risks.”