The rules for implementing new EU sanctions against Russia have been released (see also here and here). On quick glance, they are, as advertised, an important step that will have systemic effects in financial, energy and defense markets. In this respect, they are “sectoral” or “level three” sanctions in the language of policymakers. While narrow in scope– the financial ban (Article V) is on new transferable securities of majority state-owned Russian banks with maturities greater than 90 days–one is left with the impression that Europe, like the United States, stands ready to extend the sanctions if there is evasion or further Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine.
Over the past year, Europe has enjoyed calm financial markets. At the core of the market’s comfort were two assumptions about policy. First, that the European governments would do just enough to keep the process of European integration moving forward. Second, that the ECB would, in the words of Mario Draghi, do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. The centerpiece of the ECB’s subsequent efforts was expanded liquidity (through long-term repurchase operations and easier collateral requirements for banks to access ECB liquidity) and a commitment to purchase government bonds to support countries return to market (the OMT program). Even many pessimists who fear that Europe is trapped on a unsustainable, low-growth trajectory remain optimistic that Europe will do what it takes to navigate the near term risks. It may be time to question that optimism.