Can Europe go much further in its economic sanctions against Russia?

While European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went to Kyiv on Friday, the 27 are still toughening their economic rhetoric against Moscow with a ban on Russian coal that began Thursday. This is the first time that the European Union has boycotted energy produced in Russia, a decision that would have been unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

Is this evidence that Brussels has not finished punishing Moscow’s enthusiasm for Ukraine, and that Brussels still has many means to try to stop Vladimir Putin? Not right. Because if the punishment is symbolically strong, it should not provoke more than a shrug of the shoulders in the Kremlin. Coal imported by Europe has very little weight in Russian exports, especially when compared to oil and gas. Two energies Europe is “strangely” careful not to touch. Moscow in particular accounts for 40% of Europe’s gas imports, far ahead of Norway (18%) and Algeria (12%).

Go further, but at what cost?

On the contrary, this coal boycott can symbolize the fact that Europe is facing a wall. “In economic terms, we can’t go any further, except to put ourselves at risk,” says Jacques Sapir, director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. The coal boycott has few consequences for Europe. Gas or oil presents another level of difficulty: “If Europe abandons Russian gas, 30-40% of German industry will be shut down,” for example Jacques Sapir.

Europe, which still does not intend to deploy military forces in Ukraine, has been betting since the beginning of the conflict on the economic strangulation of Russia. A tactic that finds its limits due to the interdependence of the two blocs, notes Sebastien Jan, an economist specializing in international trade and director of research at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae): “Russian energy purchases by Europeans constitute a continuous flow of revenue that spawns the economy of the country they wish to stifle.” . In other words: to effectively suffocate Russia, Europe must suffocate itself. And again, Jack Sapir specifies, “Such a boycott would do more harm to Europeans than to Russia.”

Russian choking is forbidden

If Brussels cuts off the oil spigot, it is easy for Moscow to find a buyer elsewhere. “It can be more complex for gas, less mobile and highly dependent on the gas pipeline system, admits Sebastian Jan. But Russian gas is less replaceable for Europe than its oil, so it is unlikely to be interrupted.”

Seriously complicate matters. Russia will not suffocate, that’s for sure. The impact of the current sanctions is significant, but not catastrophic, ”the expert continues. Jacques Sapir recalls that the ruble’s trajectory has returned to its pre-invasion level. And he pushed the point home: “As it is, Russia can hold out for several years. In any case, no war ended without the imposition of economic sanctions.”

act anyway

Does Vingt September 27th no longer have any more cards on hand? Other options exist, but here again they are more symbolic than really restrictive. “There are still a few important small measures that are possible: targeting other products whose exports to Russians will be banned, in particular on technologies that could hinder them, supports Sébastien Jean. Extension of the list of those targeted for sanctions the list of banks … “

Veronique Riches Flores, an economist and founder of RichesFlores Research, an economic analysis and forecasting firm, denounces the Europeans’ restrictions: “Russian diplomats have only been thanked by the countries of the continent. Sanctions, even financial ones, marginally affect Russian interests,” she explains. as an example. For the expert, “Yes, Europe would probably have a lot of leeway, subject to accepting conflict with Russia. An option the EU is currently avoiding. The economist’s conclusion: “By sparing our interests, which is certainly vital, our ability to put pressure on the Vladimir Putin is very limited. »

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