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22nd Feb 2020

EU countries delay Russia sanctions despite ultimatum

  • German leader Angela Merkel last Friday said Russia must act 'in the coming hours' (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

EU countries have opted not to impose extra sanctions on Russia despite the expiry of an ultimatum, citing “positive developments”.

Their ambassadors, meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (1 July), put off the decision until next week.

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“We asked for the release of hostages and some hostages were released. There are also new talks between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders, together with France and Germany, so we’d like to see what the next steps are along these lines”, one EU diplomat said, referring to the release of four monitors from the OSCE, a multilateral club.

A second EU diplomat noted: “It’s not clear to us whether the situation is acceptable or unacceptable. It’s too fluid to make a decision at this point”.

A third EU source said: “There is also some positive movement in relation to checkpoints [on the Russia-Ukraine border]. Not everything that’s happening on the ground is in the media”.

EU leaders last Friday said that unless pro-Russia rebels free “all” hostages, hand back three border posts, let in foreign monitors, and start peace talks “by Monday 30 June” they will take “further steps” against Russia.

The rebels still hold over 100 hostages, the checkpoints, and there are no monitors in the conflict zone.

With Ukraine on Monday also ending a ceasefire in which rebels continued to attack its troops, Russia itself said the telephone diplomacy had “failed”.

“We failed – when I say ‘we’, I mean my colleagues in Europe and myself – we failed to convince him [Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko] that the road to a secure, stable, and inviolable peace cannot lie through war”, he said in a speech in Moscow on Tuesday.

Last week's ultimatum raised public expectation in Ukraine the EU would take swift action.

“I’ve been getting calls all day [from Ukrainian media] asking me: ‘So when are the sanctions coming?’ and I’m not sure what to tell them”, a spokesman for one EU mission in Ukraine said.

The EU’s signature of a free trade accord with Ukraine last Friday has also raised expectation in its foreign ministry.

“From the moment we signed the agreement, the EU took part of the responsibility for what’s going on in Ukraine,” its ambassador to the EU, Kostyantin Yeliseyev, told EUobserver.

"It's the first time the EU issued such clear conditions [on sanctions], so, pacta sunt servanda - if even one of them is not met, there should be results".

With Italy, an opponent of Russia sanctions, taking over the EU rotating presidency on Tuesday, the ambassador added: “The EU must show it does not just formulate conditions, but that it is capable of implementing them as well. We count very much on the Italian presidency to show leadership in this area, regardless of how strong Italy’s business ties with Russia may be”.

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