22nd Oct 2016

EU under pressure to broaden Russia sanctions

  • Memorial at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, where the Malaysian plane took off (Photo: Roman Boed)

The US and the UK are putting pressure on the EU to impose tougher sanctions on Russia in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines disaster.

The calls come ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (22 July) - the first opportunity for the bloc to discuss the incident, in which hundreds of Europeans, mostly Dutch people, lost their lives.

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The US and the UK have said pro-Russia rebels shot down the plane using a Russian-supplied missile.

US secretary of state John Kerry added on Sunday on Fox News: “We are trying to encourage our European friends to realise this is a wake-up call, and hopefully they will also join us in these tougher sanctions”.

British foreign secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC the same day: “Some of our European allies have been less enthusiastic and I hope that the shock of this incident will see them now more engaged, more willing to take the actions necessary to bring home to the Russians that when you do this kind of thing it has consequences”.

The US before the air crash already designated top Russian energy, banking, and defence firms.

EU leaders agreed to draw up a blacklist of Russian companies by the end of July. But there is still no appetite to target whole sectors of the Russian economy in what the EU calls “stage three” sanctions.

One senior EU diplomat told EUobserver: “The US sanctions really caused shock at the highest levels in Moscow … But he [Russian leader Vladimir Putin] is continuing to pursue his policy of trying to divide Europe and he has high hopes that the Italian [EU] presidency will take his side”.

In joint phone calls on Sunday, the leaders of France, Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands discussed what to do next.

Only British PM David Cameron said afterwards they agreed the EU "should be ready to impose further sanctions".

French President Francois Hollande said EU foreign ministers will “draw consequences” from the fact pro-Russia rebels obstructed international monitors at the crash site and tampered with evidence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Putin to use his influence on the rebels to allow a credible investigation.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte, whose country lost 189 people in the disaster, said he is shocked by the "disrespectful behaviour" of the rebels toward victims’ remains.

“In defiance of all the rules of proper investigation, people have evidently been picking through the personal and recognisable belongings of the victims. This is appalling," he said.

For his part, Putin on Sunday said he is in favour of international inspectors being allowed access.

"It's essential for a robust team of experts to work on the site of the crash under the auspices of ICAO, the relevant international commission," he said in a Kremlin statement.

Propaganda unchanged

But with Russian media continuing to publish disinformation - for instance, that Ukrainian soldiers shot down the Malaysian jet because they thought it was Putin’s presidential plane - there is no sign he is planning to stop his proxy war.

For his part, Sir Andrew Wood, Britain's former ambassador to Moscow, told EUobserver: “The chances are he is not going to change his mind [on destabilising Ukraine]”.

“He’s going to hide behind the idea that if you call for a ceasefire then you’re a peacemaker. But he won’t want to show himself as being weak".

Wood added: “It may be the case that people in Russia would begin to feel a degree of shame and that this could influence things”.

In an op-ed published in The Guardian also on Sunday, Russian civil rights activist and Pussy Riot punk band member Masha Alekhina warned against believing in Putin’s line.

"There is too much evidence that the Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down by the pro-Russian army. Not on purpose: It was a stupid, horrible accident, a mistake too easily made when people get confused (or are deliberately confused by their leaders), when inchoate rage and patriotism are aimed at a target as big as the sky. But rather than admit their mistakes, our leaders ask us to accept a lie".

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