Will MH17 be our 9/11? (26) The EU and sanctions after the downing

In response to my last blog about the proposal of a Dutch general to stifle dissent on the Internet, in particular concerning MH17, I received a few comments raising doubts about the claim that the EU only fell in line with the US sanctions of 16 July 2014 AFTER the downing. 
Wasn’t it the case that the EU Council met in special session on the 16th too, to discuss sanctions?
This is an issue worth looking at in detail, since it is claimed in my forthcoming book that it was only the downing that pushed the EU into following the American lead.

On 17 July, the BBC reported that ‘The US and EU have bolstered sanctions against Russia over its alleged support for separatists fighting in Ukraine’. President Putin, still in Brazil, commented on these sanctions that they would ‘take US-Russia relations to a "dead end".’ Of the EU, the BBC report says ‘it would give sanction details by the end of July.’ That indeed was the plan. Brussels was not convinced, too much was at stake.

The European Council met on 16 July, the day before the downing. Its communiqué was wordy, with many references to Russian misdeeds, but it also stressed ‘the European Union's commitment to pursue trilateral talks on the conditions of gas supply from the Russian Federation to Ukraine and commends the efforts of the Commission in that regard. Finding a swift agreement is important for the stabilisation of Ukraine's economy and for safeguarding the security of supply and transit of natural gas through Ukraine’.

On 17 July, Council president Herman van Rompuy, made a statement that summed up there was in fact too little agreement to proceed further.

´We had a good meeting, a bit shorter perhaps than some had expected. It is a bit unfortunate but not dramatic, not dramatic at all. In the past weeks I held extensive consultations, over the phone and in person, with all members of the European Council. My conclusion was that we are not yet at the point where we can get a consensual solution on a full package of appointments. We will continue consultations. The European Council will take decisions on the whole package at our next meeting on 30 August.’
Interestingly, even on 18 July the European Council issued a statement that went no further than saying that ‘As agreed by the European Council of 16 July, the Council has today widened the legal basis for EU restrictive measures in view of the situation in Ukraine.’ This in other words was merely an executive statement repeating what had been decided in principle on the 16th. Indeed, it also stated that ‘the Council is due to adopt a first list of such entities, including from the Russian Federation, by the end of July.’

Only on 22 July did the European Council issue a statement that mentioned MH17, ‘Council takes action following the downing of flight MH17.’ This statement, which is likewise included in the ‘Timeline - EU restrictive measures in response to the crisis in Ukraine’, offers condolences and makes a number of related demands about access to the crash site (which was in fact not an issue because even representatives of Kiev were allowed to visit albeit without arms; prime minister Najib Razak of Malaysia in fact arrived there incognito and received the black boxes from the Donbass insurgents, whom Dutch foreign secretary Timmermans called ‘thugs’ at the UN).

On sanctions, the Council (actually the ministers of foreign affairs, so not the heads of government) stated: ‘The Council asked for an acceleration of the preparation of the measures agreed at the special meeting of the European Council on 16 July. A list of entities and persons falling under the enhanced criteria adopted by the Council on 18 July should be established immediately.’ On 24 July ‘proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defence, dual-use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector’ were to be presented.

So that was the effect of the downing of MH17. Hesitations and procrastination first, and then after the disaster, a turnabout to compliance with the US sanctions of 16 July.

I do not think it can be made any clearer.

Kees van der Pijl (with thanks to Hector Reban)

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