Today, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine held referundums on whether to declare independence from the rest of the country. The U.S. and EU view the referendums as heavily influenced by Russia and contrary to international law. If residents of eastern Ukraine vote in favor of separatism, another vote may be held later in the week on whether to join Russia. These referendums come against the backdrop of a proposed presidential election in Kiev on May 25. France and Germany have vowed to impose additional sanctions on Russia if Russia interferes with that election. Those new EU sanctions could affect broader swathes of the Russian economy than the targeted sanctions imposed against Russian individuals to date.
On May 10, the White House also issued threats of additional sanctions, although it did not state when those might be imposed or how broad they might be. It is widely believed that Washington is also closely watching the presidential election in Kiev, and any interference by Russia could trigger new U.S. sanctions. That is a slightly different tack from the one described in a previous post, which pinned the imposition of broad-based U.S. sanctions on Russian troops crossing the Ukraine border. Putin has indicated that Russia’s 40,000 troops have withdrawn from the border, but that has not been corroborated by the U.S. or NATO. In the meantime, Ukraine is slowly breaking apart from within, and the ongoing violence between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian insurgents threatens civil war.
Will the U.S. issue broad-based sanctions against Russia if Donetsk and Luhansk separate from Ukraine and join Russia? If so, that could happen as early as this week. That seems unlikely, although more targeted sanctions could be imposed. Instead, all eyes seem to be on the presidential election in Kiev, which both the U.S. and EU appear to view as a critical juncture in Ukraine’s sovereignty.