The new sanctions that the European Union intends to impose on Russia over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny will not force the Russian authorities to abandon their usual ways of dealing with dissidents, including with the use of the infamous Novichok nerve agent.
It seems it's European politicians who need these sanctions most – to achieve inner peace. After all, the latest poisoning is an example of absolutely unacceptable action on the part of the Russian Federation, which at one time signed deals on non-proliferation and destruction of chemical weapons. Novichok is precisely a chemical weapon in question. That is, the EU simply cannot fail to react to such a blatant act by a government that's a signatory to these agreements, so they move to impose sanctions. Therefore, the Europeans sort of calm themselves, claiming they have done everything they could. At the same time, we're all well aware that additional EU sanctions that are of the same level as the previous ones will have no additional effect on Russia.
EU sanctions against Russia over Navalny poisoning will be purely "cosmetic" and do no real harm to Moscow
If we were talking about higher-level sanctions, then we could hope for some actual effect. For example, if Russia was disconnected from SWIFT or if certain restrictions were imposed on banking operations, then it would really affect Moscow. Another effective restriction could also be banning flights over the Russian territory, which for Russia would mean losing significant revenues from airspace transit fees. Curtailing purchases of Russian energy could have an impact as well.
However, no one in the EU is willing to take such steps because it will hurt them as well. After all, now everyone needs money amid crisis and pandemic…
Therefore, EU sanctions against Russia over Navalny poisoning will be purely "cosmetic" and do no real harm to Moscow. On the other hand, failing to impose any would be impossible as Russia's moves are becoming more and more brazen.
Meanwhile, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Ukraine-EU summit said Ukraine would be joining Russia sanctions.
If Ukraine joins these sanctions, such a move may not have the best effect on the negotiation process to resolve the situation in Donbas.
Our country has always, including under the previous president, joined international sanctions, in particular, American and European ones, targeting Russia, albeit with a certain delay. For some reason, our bureaucrats, as a rule, would long struggle to designate the exact companies and officials that should be sanctioned. For some reason, it was quite difficult for the Ukrainian authorities to do so, and that is why sometimes Ukraine was six months late with sanctions. It also happened that certain Russian structures, which applied American and European sanctions, for some reason in Ukraine were deleted from the list. But in general, Ukraine has always joined the sanctions. That is, Zelensky did not say anything new in this sense.
How influential Ukrainian sanctions could be if even European ones will have no effect? For example, how about an entry ban for a Russian official? Who would be willing to come to Ukraine after all?
Russia is demonstratively disrupting meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group
However, there is another nuance here. If Ukraine joins the move to introduce sanctions, this may not have the best effect on the negotiation process in Donbas. The positions of Andriy Yermak, who is in fact Ukraine's main negotiator at the moment, could somewhat be affected. On the other hand, it's not worth believing that this will have a major impact on anything. In fact, these negotiations have long since reached a stalemate: Russia unequivocally demands from the Verkhovna Rada to unblock the holding of local elections in the occupied Donbas before security issues in the warzone are resolved. That is why Russia is demonstratively disrupting meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group. So, if we add another cog to a railway platform full of scrap, this won't change anything.
Although Russia would use this fact as an example of an unfriendly step by Ukraine, it would not affect the geopolitical setup.
Oleksandr Kochetkov is a Ukraine-based political analyst