Critical words from Western leaders don't seem to have bothered Vladimir Putin. Following the G20 summit in Brisbane, he seems content to continue the confrontation. Europe, meanwhile, is repositioning.
Many heads of state and government leaders used the opportunity presented bythe G20 summit in Brisbane to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin what they thought about his role in the Ukraine crisis.
Now, at the start of a new week, the EU's foreign ministers will be on the move again, with a meeting planned in Brussels on Monday. The fact that the Russian president approached the West with complete indifference on the matter in Australia makes the task ahead for Europe's top diplomats all the more difficult.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who seems to have the - relatively - best relationship with Putin, had a private meeting of several hours with him in Brisbane, which she left without comment. In Brussels, European governments must now coordinate their reactions to the rhetorical and military offensives being launched by the Kremlin.
In any case: Stricter sanctions are not currently on the table, according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "But we will discuss making a [sanctions] list of eastern Ukrainian separatists, which would limit their access to assets and their freedom to travel," he said.
No results from EU sanctions
Up to this point, the economic sanctions imposed by Europe have wrought no concrete political changes save for more saber-rattling from Moscow. Was it an illusion to believe that one could bring about a shift in a situation of political conflict by targeting Putin's political circle?
"I don't think it's completely an illusion," says Jan Techau, a security expert and director of the research institute Carnegie Europe. "After all, what you hear in Putin's inner circle are quite different views on how to proceed."
For some, the price is already too high, according to the security expert: "One shouldn't forget, those who survive in Putin's team are existentially dependent on loyalty to their own country." The Russian economy is not in a strong position, and to let it bleed dry would certainly hurt. Thus public opinion could have a massive influence on Putin's inner circle.
"All signs point to this," confirms Giles Merrit of the Brussels-based institute Security and Defense Agenda. "That the economic sanctions are beginning to bite. And it won't be long until they impact normal Russian citizens."
The Kremlin, however, doesn't seem to be considering this. The expansion of military threats in the Pacific are also quite strange, in Merrit's view: "What could be the purpose, outside of showing the Russian public that Russia is once again a superpower?"
Economic considerations would only be superimposed on the visibility of Russian politics, thinks Merrit. It has long been clear that Russians feel humiliated and disregarded by the West, and consider the West's policy towards Ukraine provocative.
"Something has been deeply moved in the Russian soul, and they're very upset."
Europe needs more unity
Green party politician Rebecca Harms, member of the Ukraine committee in the European Parliament, is promoting taking a balance of accounts: "You have to evaluate where you stand with trying to find a non-military solution to the deepening crisis that has been going on since the annexation of Crimea."
It has been clear from the beginning, Harms thinks, that economic sanctions need time to start showing results: "At the moment, the Russian economy is in decline, in free fall if you look at the ruble. That is not only because of the sanctions, but also because of the decrease in oil prices." Because of this, Russia has had to rely almost exclusively on energy exports.
What the Europeans do next should be twofold, according to the Green politician. "First, make it clear that sanctions will continue and that everyone is behind this, and secondly everyone should agree that no EU countries will do any big business with Russia."
As examples, she cites the sale of German natural gas infrastructure to the Russian company Gazprom and two undelivered French Mistral warships.
Instead of doing business, Europeans should be jointly preparing for getting along with less natural gas from Russia. An emergency plan for the winter "should be made not only for Ukraine but for the whole EU."
More independence fromRussian gas, according to Harms, is the most important thing the EU foreign ministers have to achieve.