Was Europe too naive with Putin?

Politico Europe’s senior journalist Jacopo Barigazzi says that whilst Putin was planning a war and increasing the Kremlin’s dollar reserves, Europe increased its dependency on energy imports.

In a meeting that lasted several hours, EU leaders, including Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela, yesterday agreed on introducing new sanctions against Russia over its aggression in Ukraine. These sanctions will be targeting the transport, energy, and banking sectors, with the primary aim being to deprive the Russian economy of the much-needed Western capital and expertise.

According to media reports of the meeting, some Member States, particularly the Baltics and Poland, were calling for harsher sanctions that go all the way in sanctioning all areas possible of the Russian economy, including by suspending Russia from the SWIFT system. Yet, not all Member States were keen on introducing harsher sanctions, particularly France, Italy and Germany, fearing that such sanctions would cripple their economic recovery.

In Brussels, there is talk that these sanctions are not enough and will not be enough to force the Russian President to withdraw from the Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainian capital is expected to fall in the coming hours, yet, heroically, its President is still in Ukraine, leading his country’s resistance.

TheJournal.mt spoke to Politico Europe’s senior journalist, Jacopo Barigazzi, who has been following the situation from Brussels, about his perspective of the situation. In his view, Ukrainians are dying because they wanted to be European. He believes this situation shows that there was a strong naivety in Europe because whilst Putin was planning a war and increasing the Kremlin’s dollar reserves, Europe increased its dependency on energy.

Therefore the two packages of sanctions won’t be as strong as expected because Vladimir Putin massively increased the Kremlin’s dollar reserves which means that it can resist European sanctions much better than if it were without these reserves.

According to Barigazzi, the impact on European countries following these sanctions is yet to be seen including which countries will be the most hit, whether it will be Germany, Italy, the Netherlands or Finland:

“Nobody knows because of many reasons, and the key one (reason) is that no one knows what the counter measures that Russia will implement will be. Vladimir Putin does not work with an inner circle and works alone, so it is very difficult to guess.”

European leaders decided to go for the incremental approach: starting with a first package of sanctions, followed by a second package, and possibly a third will follow. The view of many in the EU was to go incrementally to keep the options open.

“But what will trigger the third package of sanctions? When Kiev will be carpet bombed? When the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is killed, or in jail? Or when pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych is restored?” He asked.

Barigazzi also mentioned another factor as Kiev has stated its case to stop Russia’s participation in the SWIFT payment system. But a number of countries including Germany and Italy are against this option being implemented.

Looking forward, Barigazzi asks, will Putin stop his military action in Ukraine or not? And is Putin still a “rational actor” or not? If he is no longer a rational actor, or has gone mad, any rational expectation cannot be applied.

In a tweet uploaded on his Twitter account yesterday, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela said that peace and neutrality are at the heart of Malta’s foreign policy and emphasised that international law must be protected.
Malta stands ready to support Ukraine by providing urgent humanitarian assistance including the provision of medical supplies.
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