While attending a workshop on international sanctions a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to meet the author of the fascinating and very recent article “The Redistributive Impact of Restrictive Measures on EU Members: Winners and Losers from Imposing Sanctions on Russia“. Much has been written on EU-Russia relations following the crisis over Ukraine and important obstacles to a rapprochement remain; however, there have been few other detailed assessments of the economic impact of the sanctions, countersanctions and geo-political uncertainty on EU member states. Because the magnitude of the overall economic effects was a surprise to me – trade contracted by over a third for almost all EU member states and by much more for some members since 2013 – I couldn’t resist to take a brief look at the changes in the EU-Russia trade relationship myself: my analysis below complements the cited work but is based on more fine-grained data, which offers a potentially more nuanced assessment of some aspects of the development in EU-Russia trade relations.
“The concerns expressed by several EU leaders regarding the cost of the restrictive measures imposed on Russia were justified.” (p. 15)
In response to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in March 2014 and Russia’s support of armed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, a group of states, led by the European Union and the United States, has imposed separate but overlapping sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses. EU sanctions have repeatedly been broadened in scope and today include restrictions against proponents and beneficiaries of Russian actions in Ukraine, economic sanctions against state-owned banks, energy and defence companies, as well as limitations on economic exchanges with Crimea. On 13 March 2017, the European Council prolonged the restrictive measures for a further six months, until 15 September 2017.
Sanctions are an important part of the policy response to what the EU and the US consider illegal actions by the Russian government. Germany has particularly emphasised the importance of a political solution and has strenuously worked towards a negotiated settlement: in March 2015, EU leaders decided to align the existing economic sanctions to the complete implementation of the Minsk II agreement, a package of measures to de-escalate the military confrontation in the Donbas that Germany and France facilitated between Moscow and Kiev. The provision of economic aid and military capabilities to Ukraine has been another pillar of the Western response; Germany has mostly focused on financial contributions.
This brief assessment aims at quantifying the changes in the EU-Russia trade relationship – which reflect economic sanctions and countersanctions as well as other factors, such as investor uncertainty and considerable changes in the exchange rate. The article also provides evidence on which member states have been affected the most in their trade relations with Russia and whether there are countries or sectors with excessive export losses or gains. This becomes especially relevant with regard to present discussions over burden-sharing and demands for a compensatory mechanism on the European level, as well as the Russian countersanctions on agricultural products, which may place disproportionately higher costs on the Southern and Eastern European countries.
In Sections 1 and 2, the text provides some background on the rationale behind the introduction of economic sanctions against Russia. This will then be complemented in Section 3 by a quantitative analysis of EU-Russia trade flows since 2013.