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What can the Cold War teach us about applying sanctions to Russia?

After the MH17 plane crash, the West once again has to wrestle with the question of what to do with the defiant regime in the Kremlin. Diplomacy is not at the moment effective, but military options are unthinkable. Only economic sanctions will send a strong signal both to Moscow and to the outraged Western electorate. It is no wonder that the last meeting of European foreign ministers went further than asset freezes and travel bans for Vladimir Putin’s “cronies”. The ministers also considered “sectoral sanctions” that would target individual segments of Russia’s economy. They left open the option of placing an embargo on exports of “dual use goods and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector”.

However, economic sanctions are always controversial – and they are often not as effective as promised. The last time the West applied economic sanctions against the Kremlin was

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The growing refugee crisis in Ukraine

Behind the headline grabbing annexation of Crimea, separatist incursions in the Donbass and consequent “anti-terror operation” has been a growing humanitarian crisis that has been rapidly increasing in severity in the last month: there are now tens of thousands of IDPs (internally displaced people) and the number is rising. These are Ukrainians who felt they had no choice but to leave their homes, often taking little with them, unsure when they might return. After losing many towns in recent days, separatist commanders have now pulled back their men to the two big Eastern cities themselves, Luhansk and Donetsk, threatening another Stalingrad. It’s hard to even imagine the worst case scenario, but even should victory come fast to the Ukrainian army, it could take a long time to reintegrate those who have left: another challenge the new authorities In Kyiv could not have been prepared

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Georgia and Moldova to sign Association Agreement with the EU

This Friday marks another milestone in the fall-out from last November’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius – Georgia and Moldova will sign Association Agreements with the European Union. What’s more, Ukraine will complete the signature process by signing the economic part (the political part was signed back in March). These AAs provide for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU which is designed to benefit these countries’ economies in the long-term.

Significant constituencies in all these countries favour a move towards Europe. However, as we have examined in our series of papers on ‘Protecting the European Choice’, Moscow is known to be deeply concerned about this swing of neighbouring countries out of its sphere of influence. Beyond intervening militarily in Ukraine, Putin has repeatedly enjoined both Tbilisi and Chisinau to think carefully about the “possible

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A brief note from post-election Ukraine

Eight days on and the results were finally confirmed: Petro Poroshenko has been declared the victor of the Ukrainian elections with 54.7 percent on a nation-wide turnout of 60 percent. Significantly, the president-elect won a majority in every single oblast (region) including in the East where voting took place in limited form amidst bloody fighting and chaotic scenes. He now heads to Warsaw, his first foreign trip, for the 25th anniversary of the elections that were the beginning of the end of authoritarian Communist rule in Central-Eastern Europe. His inauguration is planned for Saturday, after which many hope a new chapter begins for Ukraine.

As an election observer in Ukraine, visiting polling stations and following developments on the ground, it’s hard to overstate how different the election that brought Poroshenko to the presidency was compared to the many that preceded it.

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Russia and China’s gas deal: ignore the hype

Given President Putin and China's need for mutual support (because of the recent unpopular manoeuvres in Ukraine and South China Sea) they are hyping up their good relations as never before. It seems a move of folly for China to plunk down as much as $20-25 billion dollars as prepayment for years of Russian gas, but in exchange it is getting a long term price lower than Europe's. How secure are these contracts? It is, after all, impossible to predict future prices. France was previously trapped in contracts with Algeria and Russia that locked in prices – costing France plenty when prices fell.

But the move's strategic significance is more hype than substance. In the end, gas consumers, including Europeans,  might be the winners in this situation: a pipeline deal between Russia and China increases competition between piped gas and global LNG (liquefied natural gas) in Asia. By the

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