Europe’s leaders have so far managed to remain united over the Ukraine crisis. On March 17, they even managed to agree to impose a first set of sanctions on Russia.
In the South, countries are still deeply preoccupied by the economic crisis. They are far from enthusiastic about the possibility of slapping on additional measures that might harm them too. Cyprus’s reluctance is linked to its status as a lucrative parking place for Russian money. Italy under former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi grew very close to Russia. Berlusconi is gone, of course, but Italy still has strong business ties to Russia through its energy group ENI.
Geography and religion play a big role, too. Spain’s foreign policy priorities are North Africa and the Middle East. Orthodox Christian Greece, by tradition, has close ties to Russia, especially with regard to trade and energy.
As for Western Europeans, Britain dreads tougher sanctions because of the impact they would have on London as a financial center. France worries about the consequences for defense contracts. The Netherlands has close links to Russian energy giant Gazprom, especially through its distribution network.
Germany’s influential industry lobbies are completely against sanctions. The country’s political elite is divided, not just for economic reasons but also because of a sense of history and shared ties. Despite that, German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems determined to impose another round of sanctions, as she made clear during a speech to the parliament on March 20.
Eastern Europeans aren’t united, either. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who recently signed a major nuclear energy contract with Russia, has played down the entire Ukraine crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In contrast, the Baltic states are so afraid of their giant neighbor’s appetite that they are taking a tough line despite a total dependence on Russian gas.
The table below presents a rough-and-ready Who’s Who of the 28 EU member states and their attitudes toward tougher sanctions on Russia. It also shows the percentage of each country’s natural gas consumption that comes from Russian imports.
|Country||Support for tougher sanctions on Russia||% of total gas consumption from Russian imports*|
|Bulgaria||Supportive, but big differences among parties||100|
|Czech Republic||Reluctant but will support||80|
|Germany||Reluctant but will support||40|
|Slovakia||Reluctant but will support||63|
|Slovenia||Reluctant but will support||57|
* Note: The percentage of gas that member states import from Russia is distinct from the percentage that gas accounts for in their overall energy consumption.