UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, started his three-day visit to the US last week by calling on the EU to follow the US in imposing sanctions on Russia in response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack that happened earlier this year.

On 6 August 2018, the US State Department accused Russia of contravening international law by using the chemical nerve agent “Novichok” on foreign soil and, on 24 August 2018, gave notice that the US Government will be imposing new sanctions on Russia (under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991). These sanctions will include the termination on arms sales financing, denial of US Government credit or other financial assistance, and prohibition on certain exports including for national security-sensitive goods. We recently published a blog on these measures.

Significantly, on his first visit to Washington DC as Foreign Secretary, Mr Hunt called for the EU to stand with “one voice” and apply further pressure by imposing “comprehensive” sanctions to ensure Russia abides by international law.

The EU Viewpoint

As a unanimous decision is needed by all 28 EU countries in order to bring further sanctions into force, the UK may face challenges in persuading all fellow EU countries to follow the decision made by the US. The EU has recently struggled to speak with a unified voice on matters relating to Russia, with some governments such as Italy and Greece wanting to draw a line and not increase the pressure by using sanctions. Additionally, Austria was one of the few EU countries that refused to expel Russian diplomats after the nerve agent attack, with the Austrian Government now calling for the reduction of the sanctions against the Russian government.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see the next steps that the EU takes following the US State Department’s announcement of measures against Russia.