The European Union has been warned it is sending a “dangerous signal of weakness” with new guidelines weakening the bloc’s sanctions on coal. The new directive has sparked backlash from some European countries and military experts who fear it is sending the wrong message to an increasingly aggressive Russia and responds to that of Vladimir Putin fantasy of EU dependency. The new directive from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, said the transfer of certain goods, including coal and related products, “should be allowed to combat food and energy insecurity around the world”.
Earlier, the Commission said its sanctions prohibit EU operators from transferring coal and providing services for all shipments of such products from Russia.
A number of countries reacted to this change of tone, with the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying in a statement that the guidelines were surprising and not coordinated with member states.
The ministry confirmed that a number of countries had raised the issue at a meeting of foreign ministers who asked for the guidelines to be reconsidered, especially for goods not related to food security.
The government in Riga will now work with the commission to address the concerns, the ministry insisted.
Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie claimed that the full ban on coal imports into the EU remains in place, but the group of countries pointed out that the new text contains references to wood, some cement products and coal.
Diplomats have asked the commission to further explain the proposed move, fearing it would go beyond previous food security commitments and in fact loosen sanctions on those Russian goods.
Mark Voyger, a senior fellow in the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Analysis, told Express.co.uk that in light of Vladimir Putin’s escalating aggression, this move sends the wrong message.
He said: “Looking at the announcements Putin has made – a combination of violating international law, annexations, substantial mobilization, nuclear threats – this is the kind of behavior that should really lead to more sanctions.
Voyger, who is also director of the Masters of Science program in Global Management at the American University of Kiev, continued: “If you look at the Russian media, even things that look trivial and comical, their popular shows will include pro-Kremlin speakers. who claim a terrible winter is coming upon Europe, and they tell their public that Europe will be frozen without Russian gas, energy and fossil fuels.
“They promote this idea that they have Europe by the energy balls, so to speak, and warn that they will freeze them if they don’t do what they say – they think the EU is desperate.
“It comes from the Kremlin, but there is now an erroneous belief, across all sectors of Russian society, that Europe is so dependent on Russian energy that Russia can get away with serious violations of international law and standards.
“This will remain so as long as Europe is afraid to step up sanctions.
“In the light of [Putin’s announcements today]I think if the EU does not reconsider their sanctions, they will send a very dangerous signal of weakness to Putin.”
Meanwhile, NATO’s secretary general warned that Putin escalated the conflict with his partial mobilization, which went into effect immediately.
But Jens Stoltenberg added that the moves showed “that the war is not going according to his plans” and that it was clear that the Russian president had made “a major miscalculation”.
He continued: “We will make sure there is no misunderstanding in Moscow about exactly how we will respond.
“Of course it depends on what kind of situation or what kind of weapons they are allowed to use.
“The most important thing is to prevent that and that is why we have been so clear in our communication with Russia about the unprecedented consequences.”