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The EU and Russia: Locked into confrontation

28-07-2020

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However ...

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However, its 2014 annexation of Crimea caused a more permanent rupture. Responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the EU adopted hard-hitting sanctions. In 2016, the EU decided to base its Russia policy on five principles, which remain as valid as ever in 2020. They are: insistence on full implementation of the Minsk Agreements on eastern Ukraine as a condition for lifting sanctions against Russia; efforts to strengthen relations with Russia's former Soviet neighbours; greater EU resilience to Russian threats; selective engagement with Russia on certain issues such as counter-terrorism; and support for EU-Russia people-to-people contacts. After six years of deadlock, French president Emmanuel Macron is among those calling for renewed EU-Russia dialogue. Improved relations between Ukraine and Russia following the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in spring 2019 raised hopes of a solution to the Donbass conflict, which is still the main obstacle to better relations between the two sides. However, there is still no sign of a breakthrough.

EU-Iran: The way forward - Can the JCPOA survive the Trump presidency?

07-07-2020

Two issues have dominated relations between the EU and Iran in recent years: the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – including efforts to conclude it, followed by efforts to save it – and human rights concerns. Even though the European Union (EU) and Iran have worked together over the past two years to save the JCPOA, relations between the two have deteriorated. Iran accuses EU Member States of not standing up to pressure from the United States of America ( ...

Two issues have dominated relations between the EU and Iran in recent years: the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – including efforts to conclude it, followed by efforts to save it – and human rights concerns. Even though the European Union (EU) and Iran have worked together over the past two years to save the JCPOA, relations between the two have deteriorated. Iran accuses EU Member States of not standing up to pressure from the United States of America (USA) to isolate Iran and of not doing enough to save the JCPOA. The EU, for its part, is concerned about Iran's enrichment activities; growing tensions in the region and Iran's role in this context, including the provision of military, financial and political support to non-state actors in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen; and its ballistic missile programme. In 2011, the EU put restrictive measures in place to react to serious human rights violations in Iran. These remain in force. Nevertheless, the EU has continued to engage with Iran, in marked contrast to the USA. Following the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, the Trump administration re-imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Iran and has since then pursued a policy of 'maximum pressure'. The declared goal of the maximum pressure campaign is to push Iran to negotiate a new agreement that would also address Iran's ballistic missile programme, end its support of militant groups in the region, and curb its foreign policy ambitions in western Asia. Instead, the US policy of maximum pressure on Tehran has led to an escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf region, with potentially direct consequences for Europe. With Iran continuing uranium enrichment to levels far exceeding the levels permitted under the JCPOA, and with the USA threatening to trigger the re-imposition of United Nations (UN) sanctions against Iran, further escalation is likely. Security in the EU is linked to the security situation in western Asia. For that reason, Europe should maintain efforts to preserve the JCPOA and seek to reduce tension between Iran and the USA.

Coronavirus and international sanctions: Should sanctions be eased during the pandemic?

20-05-2020

The coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns that international sanctions may be exacerbating the risk of a humanitarian crisis. In March 2020, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to waive restrictions on food and medicines that are affecting the world's most vulnerable countries. Especially since the suffering caused by the international trade embargo against Iraq in the 1990s, the European Union has sought to design its sanctions for maximum effect at the least ...

The coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns that international sanctions may be exacerbating the risk of a humanitarian crisis. In March 2020, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to waive restrictions on food and medicines that are affecting the world's most vulnerable countries. Especially since the suffering caused by the international trade embargo against Iraq in the 1990s, the European Union has sought to design its sanctions for maximum effect at the least possible humanitarian cost. Usually it does this by targeting restrictions at key individuals or organisations, and in some cases sectors, rather than a country's economy as a whole. Critics of sanctions claim that US-imposed trade restrictions have prevented Iran from purchasing essential medical supplies needed to fight the pandemic. They also argue that EU and US sanctions make desperately impoverished Zimbabwe and Sudan even more vulnerable than they would otherwise be. Both the European Union and the United States defend their policies, but acknowledge the importance of humanitarian exceptions. Although the European Union has not said that it will lift any of its restrictive measures, it has offered various forms of support to several sanctions-hit countries.

Escalating US-Iran conflict: The EU's priorities

16-01-2020

On 3 January 2020, a United States (US) strike outside Baghdad killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the al-Qods force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC), and arguably the second most important man in Iran after Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The assassination was a reaction to an escalation in the growing conflict between the USA and Iran. Iran retaliated on 8 January 2020, by attacking two US bases in Iraq with missiles; luckily – or intentionally – without ...

On 3 January 2020, a United States (US) strike outside Baghdad killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the al-Qods force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC), and arguably the second most important man in Iran after Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The assassination was a reaction to an escalation in the growing conflict between the USA and Iran. Iran retaliated on 8 January 2020, by attacking two US bases in Iraq with missiles; luckily – or intentionally – without casualties. Although both the USA and Iran have refrained from any further action, few expect this to mark the end of tensions between the USA and Iran in the region. The EU reaction to the assassination has been to try to de-escalate the situation to prevent all-out war, to focus on stabilising Iraq, and to limit damage to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

An EU human rights sanctions regime?

02-04-2019

The EU already has multiple sanctions in place targeting individuals responsible for gross human rights abuses in specific countries. There are growing calls for a more global approach targeting violations from all over the world, following the example of the US 2016 Global Magnitsky Act. In December 2018, the Dutch government floated the idea, but it is not yet clear whether it has a good chance of being adopted at EU level.

The EU already has multiple sanctions in place targeting individuals responsible for gross human rights abuses in specific countries. There are growing calls for a more global approach targeting violations from all over the world, following the example of the US 2016 Global Magnitsky Act. In December 2018, the Dutch government floated the idea, but it is not yet clear whether it has a good chance of being adopted at EU level.

Venezuela: An unexpected turn of events

07-02-2019

The election of Juan Guaidó as president of the National Assembly and his subsequent self-proclamation as interim President of Venezuela has brought an unexpected turn to political events in the country and revived hopes for change both at home and abroad. Not only has Guaidó rallied massive popular support among Venezuelans, he has also obtained official recognition from the USA and most countries in the region. The European Parliament and 19 EU Member States have also recognised Guaidó as the legitimate ...

The election of Juan Guaidó as president of the National Assembly and his subsequent self-proclamation as interim President of Venezuela has brought an unexpected turn to political events in the country and revived hopes for change both at home and abroad. Not only has Guaidó rallied massive popular support among Venezuelans, he has also obtained official recognition from the USA and most countries in the region. The European Parliament and 19 EU Member States have also recognised Guaidó as the legitimate interim President.

Russia [What Think Tanks are thinking]

21-09-2018

In September, Russia held its largest military exercise since 1981, the height of the Cold War, deploying 300 000 troops and also inviting Chinese forces to participate. The event highlighted Russia’s growing assertiveness in security and foreign policy, following its annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Syria. The policies of President Vladimir Putin, who was re-elected earlier this year, pose a dilemma for the European Union and the United States, with some observers accusing him of ...

In September, Russia held its largest military exercise since 1981, the height of the Cold War, deploying 300 000 troops and also inviting Chinese forces to participate. The event highlighted Russia’s growing assertiveness in security and foreign policy, following its annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Syria. The policies of President Vladimir Putin, who was re-elected earlier this year, pose a dilemma for the European Union and the United States, with some observers accusing him of trying to sabotage Western liberal democracy and others saying that he wants to regain the position of global player that the Soviet Union once occupied. This note offers links to commentaries and studies by major international think tanks, which discuss Russia's policies and how to respond to them. More reports on the topic can be found in a previous edition of 'What Think Tanks are Thinking', published in March 2018. Some more papers on US-Russian relations are available in another edition from the series published in August 2018.

Updating the Blocking Regulation: The EU's answer to US extraterritorial sanctions

07-06-2018

On 8 May 2018, President Trump announced the unilateral US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the landmark nuclear agreement signed by Iran and the E3/EU+3 – France, Germany, the UK and the EU plus China, Russia and the USA – in 2015. He also announced that the US would re-impose sanctions on Iran that had been lifted as part of the implementation of the JCPOA. These sanctions have extraterritorial effect, essentially making it illegal for EU companies and financial institutions ...

On 8 May 2018, President Trump announced the unilateral US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the landmark nuclear agreement signed by Iran and the E3/EU+3 – France, Germany, the UK and the EU plus China, Russia and the USA – in 2015. He also announced that the US would re-impose sanctions on Iran that had been lifted as part of the implementation of the JCPOA. These sanctions have extraterritorial effect, essentially making it illegal for EU companies and financial institutions to engage in a wide range of economic and commercial activities with Iran. Companies that disregard the US secondary sanctions face major fines and/or criminal charges in the US, or even exclusion from the US market. US sanctions will be reinstated after a 90- or 180-day wind-down period, to allow companies to make the necessary arrangements. Following the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, European companies have entered into important commercial and investment agreements with Iranian counterparts, worth billions of euros. Many of these companies also have important commercial ties with the US. Faced with the prospect of penalties in the US, several EU companies have already announced that they are ending their dealings with Iran, unless a way can be found to exempt or shield them from US secondary sanctions. In response, the Commission adopted a delegated act on 6 June 2018 to update the annex to the 'Blocking Regulation', which was adopted in 1996 to protect EU businesses against the effects of the extraterritorial application of legislation adopted by a third country. The Blocking Regulation forbids EU persons from complying with extraterritorial sanctions, allows companies to recover damages arising from such sanctions, and nullifies the effect in the EU of any foreign court judgment based on them. The effectiveness of the regulation as a mechanism to offset US sanctions has been questioned, however its adoption sends an important political message. Parliament now has two months to object to the delegated act, but may signal earlier that it will not do so, thus allowing the measure to come into force earlier than the end of the two-month period.

US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal [What Think Tanks are thinking]

18-05-2018

President Donald Trump announced on 8 May that the United States was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, ignoring calls from other signatories to preserve the 2015 deal, which lifted sanctions on Teheran in return for measures scaling back its nuclear ambitions. The decision paves the way for reinstating US sanctions against Iran, which will also affect non-US companies doing business with that country. President Trump justified the move by saying that the deal did not go far enough in removing ...

President Donald Trump announced on 8 May that the United States was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, ignoring calls from other signatories to preserve the 2015 deal, which lifted sanctions on Teheran in return for measures scaling back its nuclear ambitions. The decision paves the way for reinstating US sanctions against Iran, which will also affect non-US companies doing business with that country. President Trump justified the move by saying that the deal did not go far enough in removing the threat posed by Iran to the United States and its allies in the Middle East. This note offers links to reports and commentaries from some major international think-tanks and research institutes on the Iran nuclear deal and the US decision.

EU sanctions: A key foreign and security policy instrument

08-05-2018

Sanctions have become an increasingly central element of the EU's common and foreign security policy. At present, the EU has 42 sanctions programmes in place, making it the world's second-most active user of restrictive measures, after the US. Unlike the comprehensive trade embargoes used in the past, the EU has moved towards asset freezes and visa bans targeted at individual persons and companies, aiming to influence foreign governments while avoiding humanitarian costs for the general population ...

Sanctions have become an increasingly central element of the EU's common and foreign security policy. At present, the EU has 42 sanctions programmes in place, making it the world's second-most active user of restrictive measures, after the US. Unlike the comprehensive trade embargoes used in the past, the EU has moved towards asset freezes and visa bans targeted at individual persons and companies, aiming to influence foreign governments while avoiding humanitarian costs for the general population. Other measures in the sanctions toolkit include arms embargoes, sectoral trade and investment restrictions, as well as suspensions of development aid and trade preferences. The declared purpose of EU sanctions is to uphold the international security order as well as defending human rights and democracy standards, by encouraging targeted countries to change their behaviour. Measuring their effectiveness is difficult, as sanctions rarely achieve all their aims, and usually there are other causes to which changes can be attributed. However, even when this primary purpose is not achieved, sanctions may have useful secondary effects, for example by deterring other actors from similar behaviour. The broader the international support for EU sanctions and the closer the relationship between the EU and the targeted country are, the stronger the prospects for success will be. On the other hand, effectiveness can be undermined by inconsistent application of sanctions standards and by the difficulty of coordinating implementation between multiple stakeholders.

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