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Russian sanctions: Nuclear gambit

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toxic_winter-1920x1080Opinion by Anna van Densky, Brussels

MEPs' 'invitation' to the European Council to broaden the  sanctions spectrum against Russia in the nuclear sector raises concerns over Europan safety, which has already been compromised lately as a result of the competition between the US and Russia over Ukraine's nuclear energy market while the US has delivered incompatible fuel rods to Russian (Soviet) designed power stations. The EU's failed Russian sanctions policy, damaging the bloc's 28 economies, ended in a frantic search for influence mechanisms on the Kremlin and became increasingly reckless, interfering with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prerogratives - a dangerous move.

The accident at Europe's biggest nuclear plant in Ukraine just a few weeks ago was not reported to the IAEA as it should have been, which demonstrated a vulnerability in a sector manipulated by the political agenda in a country torn by armed conflict and sinking in debt. Breaking the rules, requesting accident reporting to the IAEA, the government's silence opened the gate to speculation over the situation in the nuclear sector, with possible fatal impacts on Europe, already acquainted with nuclear troubles following the Chernobyl catastrophe.

The idea of manipulating the nuclear industry shows the despair of MEPs of noticing any tangible result from the sanctions policy - as the economic situation in Russia is deteriorating, the Kremlin continues to enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. Further, the Ukrainian attitude demonstrates the negligence of international order in nuclear safety, elaborated as a result of painful failures including Chernobyl. The incident caused by the incompatibility of elements in the Yuzhno-Ukrainsaya nuclear station brought the co-operation between Ukraine and Westinghouse (US) to a halt in 2012.

A similar problem caused a serious incident at the Czech Temelin power station – apparently, the differences between the US and Russian (Soviet) nuclear industry design of fuel rods can pose a security threat. The issue has been under discussion for several years: can US nuclear fuel be used safely at Russian-built power stations? At present, Ukraine's four nuclear power-plants use 15 reactors, provide half of the electricity demand, with nuclear fuel delivered and waste handled by Russians with rigid procedures.

The idea of bypassing the IAEA while using the nuclear industry as a battlefield over geopolitical interests not only sounds perilous, it is perilous. For the sake of camouflage of its own political miscalculations, which the sanctions against Moscow clearly are, they provoked an increase in President Vladimir Putin's popularity among the lukewarm part of the Russian electorate, lifting it to a dream level, and evoked the spread of anti-Western moods, which were formerly preached without success by communists and nationalists. But the unforeseen response of nuclear sanctions will certainly not end there, influencing Russian home politics against the West, switching sympathies to Asia.

The nuclear gambit may end with more sacrifices than were originally visualized, having an impact on global politics as much as European.

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A possible nuclear twist for a new wave of sanctions will without ambiguity hit the Iranian non-proliferation talks hard – one can not imagine Russia being a foe and an ally at the same time, pursuing an engagement with Teheran in uranium enrichment by Russian nuclear companies, while imposing sanctions on its nuclear sector.

Gambits are great for chess, but endangering human lives through bypassing the IAEA and hindering non-proliferation talks in their final stage, might bring the downfall of the European legislators themselves – a nuclear accident on European soil, as much as collapse of the non-proliferation talks will turn fatal for the European institutions, undermining their moral power and strengthening forces leading to their decline. Even the shadow of Chernobyl is too much to bear for EU citizens - if it is repeated, a political nuclear winter will certainly follow.

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