Are EU Sanctions Enough to Pressure Russia? Unpacking the Conflict

Significant geopolitical tensions formed between Russia and Ukraine as well as with many Western nations as a result of this annexation, which was strongly condemned internationally.

The EU’s relations with Russia have gone through several complex phases since the end of the Cold War when Russia’s relations with Western European countries began to develop after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Indeed, the deterioration in relations is far more visible in comparisons between EU policies and Russian activities at the global as well as regional level, especially since 2014 when Russia annexed the entire Crimea region and intervened militarily in mainland Ukraine. Significant geopolitical tensions formed between Russia and Ukraine as well as with many Western nations as a result of this annexation, which was strongly condemned internationally.


Looking back, the EU and Russia established good relations in the early 1990s. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), signed in June 1994 and entered into force in 1997, serves as the legal framework for the relations between the EU and Russia. The PCA outlines the primary shared goals and institutional structure for bilateral agreements. Its foundation was to promote democratic values, international peace and security, and political and economic freedom through mutual partnership to enhance relations in the areas of politics, business, the economy, and culture.

In 2003, the St. Petersburg Conference marked an agreement between the EU and Russia to strengthen their cooperation by establishing four long-term “common spaces.” The four common spaces are the following: common economic space; the space of freedom, security, and justice; the space of cooperation in external security; and finally, the space for research, education, and intercultural exchange.


The bilateral relations went well years later, until Crimea annexation in 2014. After the ousting of the pro-Russian president Yanukovych during the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine, Russia began military control of Crimea. This involved seizing military facilities, blocking ports in the Black Sea, arming local pro-Russian militias, replacing existing government buildings with a pro-Russian administration, and taking control of the airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol.

On March 1, 2014, the Federation Council of Russia authorized President Vladimir Putin to use military force in Ukraine. Putin claimed that this move was necessary to protect Russian military personnel and civilians in Crimea. Subsequently, the Crimean Supreme Council declared independence from Ukraine on March 11, 2014. This was followed by a controversial referendum on March 16, 2014, in which 96.7% of voters chose to join Russia. On March 18, 2014, Crimea’s accession agreement was signed by President Putin and other Russian officials admitting Crimea to join the Russian Federation.


The EU responded to Russia’s activities that not only violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity but also violations of international norms and laws by gradually imposing sanctions on the country. In 2014, the EU imposed sanctions on Russia because of its illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Eastern Ukraine. These sanctions included diplomatic measures, individual sanctions such as travel bans, asset freezes, limits on using certain assets, and restrictions on economic cooperation. The goal of these sanctions was to prevent further aggression by maintaining pressure on Russia domestically and internationally and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The EU has implemented a multi-purpose approach to sanctions, focusing on coercion, constraint, and stigmatizing functions. There is now more emphasis on imposing limiting and stigmatizing sanctions to suppress Russia both internally and globally, as coercive measures were less successful in changing Russia’s behavior. These significant diplomatic and economic repercussions have played a crucial role in shaping perceptions of Russia’s actions within national and global contexts, leading to Russia’s isolation and strained relations with the EU and other Western countries.


Since 2014, the EU has repeatedly extended its sanctions against Russia; the latest extension being June 28, 2024. In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, leading to further escalation of the existing tensions and sanctions. Several international organizations, including the EU, have imposed sanctions and taken significant diplomatic measures. The sequence of events triggered by the invasion has had a significant impact on international relations and security dynamics in Europe. The conflict has raised concerns about great-power competition and strategic retaliation against Russian aggression. In response, the EU imposed sanctions on Russia to address the political instability caused by the invasion.

“Are The EU Sanctions Against Russia Effective?”

The effectiveness of the sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 has been the subject of constant debate. Critics argue that the sanctions have failed to achieve their intended goals of holding Russia accountable for its actions and preventing further aggression.

The sanctions have had significant economic impacts on Russia particularly in the energy and financial sectors. The EU and the US have imposed restrictions on vital industries including oil, energy, military, technology, and state-owned banks. Due to these limitations, Russia’s international trade decreased and its economic growth has slowed. Sanctions have stifled Russia’s international transactions. Several Russian banks have terminated their Swift services, making it impossible for them to conduct transactions with other banks abroad. Sanctions have caused Russia economic losses, Russia is expected to have lost $40 billion in 2014 and $100 billion in 2015 as a result of the sanctions.

“Sanctions Ineffectiveness Caused by Russia’s Great Power?”

Russia has responded to the sanctions by developing strategies to lessen their impact. For example, they have established their own banking system and are relying more on domestic investment rather than foreign investment. The sanctions have had a relatively small impact on Russia, as its economy and corporate system are still functioning properly with minor adjustments. To minimize the effects of the sanctions, Russia has created alternative solutions, such as forming alliances with countries like China, India, and the Middle East. Russia has been using its state-controlled media to promote a narrative of resilience and resistance against Western sanctions. This narrative has mobilized public support for the government and created a sense of national unity and purpose, reducing the effectiveness of sanctions. The effectiveness of the sanctions against Russia is still uncertain, as Russia has found ways to minimize their impact in recent years. Sanctions remain one of the methods used by the US and the EU to prevent Russia from using force in violation of international law.

On the other hand, the EU’s reliance on Russian energy makes it difficult to impose effective sanctions. In the first year of the war, the EU paid Russia €140 billion for energy. Because not all countries agree with the sanctions policy, it is challenging to apply sanctions effectively. Some countries are unwilling to sever ties with Russia, preventing the global application of sanctions.

Alicia Z. Yunaz
Alicia Z. Yunaz
My name is Alicia Zatilaqmar Yunaz, and I am currently a third-year student majoring in International Relations at Andalas University, Indonesia.