Putin accuses US of 'blackmail' on French bank fine

02.07.14 @ 09:21

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Russia has accused the US of using bank fines to “blackmail” France on arms sales, amid Western division on Ukraine.

  • With an invasion force parked on the border, Putin also renewed his threat to 'protect' Russian speakers in Ukraine (Photo: kremlin.ru)

President Vladimir Putin made the claim in a speech to Russian ambassadors in Moscow on Tuesday (1 July).

“We are aware of the pressure our American partners are putting on France to force it not to supply Mistrals to Russia. We even know that they hinted that if France does not deliver the Mistrals, the sanctions will be quietly lifted from their banks, or at least they will be significantly minimised,” he said.

“What is being done to the French banks can cause nothing but indignation in Europe … What is this if not blackmail?”

He noted that: “Europe is our natural and most significant trade and economic partner.”

He added that “ever more European politicians and businessmen are coming to understand that someone [the US] simply wants to use Europe in their own interests, that it is becoming a hostage of someone’s near-sighted, ideologised approaches.”

He also said France and Germany sided with Russia in condemning Ukraine’s decision to end the ceasefire against pro-Russia rebels.

“Unfortunately, [Ukrainian] President Poroshenko has resolved to resume military action, and we failed – when I say ‘we’, I mean my colleagues in Europe and myself – we failed to convince him that the road to a secure, stable and inviolable peace cannot lie through war,” he noted, following telephone conferences with French, German, and Ukrainian leaders this week.

His remarks on the Mistrals - two warships being built in France for Russia - come after the US at a recent G7 event criticised the project.

US regulators this week fined French bank BNP Paribas $9 billion over its illegal funding of the Cuban, Iranian and Sudanese regimes.

The French bank has admitted guilt and the French government has said it respects the independence of US regulators.

But France and the US have taken opposite lines on Poroshenko’s ceasefire decision.

France’s ambassador to Moscow, Jean-Maurice Ripert, told Russian news agency Interfax on Tuesday that he “regrets” the Ukrainian move and that France and Germany are putting “pressure” on Poroshenko to change his mind.

He told Interfax on Wednesday that “no one in Brussels has suggested considering the third phase of sanctions [economic sanctions]” against Russia at this stage.

But when asked by press on Tuesday if the US is supporting Poroshenko’s decision, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said: “Yes, we are. And look, it takes two to keep a ceasefire, right? … the fact remained that the separatists, many of them, weren’t adhering to it, and he has a right to defend his country”.

Her statements came after Nato’s military chief, US general Philip Breedlove, said on Monday that Russia has an invasion force parked on Ukraine’s border and is actively fuelling the Ukraine insurgency.

“Russian irregular forces are very active inside eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed forces are active inside eastern Ukraine. And Russian financing is very active inside eastern Ukraine".

The show of trans-Atlantic disunity comes amid deepening division inside the EU.

Austria last week invited Putin to Vienna and signed a new deal to build its part of South Stream - a Russian gas pipeline deemed to violate EU energy laws by the European Commission.

Hungary on Tuesday also said it will build its part of the project.

Meanwhile, France and Germany oppose the appointment of Polish FM Radek Sikorski as the EU’s new foreign policy chief because they say he is too outspoken on Russia.

Italy, a leading opponent of sanctions, also took over the rotating EU presidency on Tuesday, while its foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, is becoming a favourite to get the EU foreign post.

A Ukrainian diplomatic source told EUobserver that “unless the EU and US stand united” in a forceful approach to Russia “they will not achieve anything”.

He added that Poroshenko’s decision to end the ceasefire is due to growing awareness in Kiev that its Western allies will not help in security terms despite Ukraine’s signature of a strategic treaty with the EU.

“It is becoming clear that we have to rely on ourselves [to stand up to Putin],” the source said.