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Opinion: Final deadline for Russia approaching

The EU is once again threatening Russia with sanctions over its role in the Ukraine Crisis. Europe needs to put its money where its mouth is if it is to retain credibility, writes DW's Europe correspondent Bernd Riegert.

Allegationsthat rebels shot down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine have changed the European Union's perspective on the long-simmering conflict with Russia. Now, there's little else left for EU foreign ministers to do but to increase pressure on Moscow. And they're not going about it with much enthusiasm. Some states fear massive economic repercussions, but they have no other choice if they want to maintain credibility.

Russia has been given a tight deadline - until Thursday (24.07.2014) - to take action and rein in the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. However, no final decisions will be made on Thursday. Instead, leaders will consider whether a further special summit of heads of state and government is necessary. A summit that will really get down to brass tacks - a complicated, typically European process, which can only be explained to an American ally with great difficulty.

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert

DW's Europe correspondent Bernd Riegert

In the United States, a presidential decree is enough to implement sanctions, but in the EU a complex legislative procedure needs to be followed. In Europe, affected parties can challenge such sanctions in court. Therefore, order must prevail.

Russia is just one small step away from being hit with the first economic sanctions. The EU shouldn't hide from its citizens the fact that sanctions will almost certainly be met with retaliation by Russia, potentially resulting in significant economic losses for European companies.

The EU's economic performance could suffer. But it's a price that has to be paid, or else the field will be left entirely to President Vladimir Putin, without any political or economic opposition.

European credibility also means imposing an arms embargo as soon as possible. France has thus far blocked such a move because it wants to supply Russia with two expensive warships. But this position is no longer tenable after the crash of MH17.

How can they supply weapons to a nation it accuses of equipping rebels with weapons? How can they supply weapons to Russia, which breached international law just a few months ago by occupying Crimea? Will the two helicopter carriers in question perhaps be stationed in the newly annexed Crimean port of Sevastopol? The United States has also been openly critical of the macabre French position.

Thursday will therefore be a crucial day in the history of the European Union. It may kick off an unprecedented economic struggle with Russia, which could even threaten Europe's energy supply. Then it will be a question of who can hold out the longest.

One thing is certain: Russia won't back down easily, and is unlikely to change its policy of expansion and intervention from one day to the next. That's another thing the EU should tell its citizens.

Russia certainly isn't as economically powerful as President Putin would like it to be. But the country may be more willing than the West to endure hardship, and be prepared to accept an economic downtown resulting from any sanctions.

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