Tuesday

31st Mar 2020

EU to uphold Russia sanctions

  • The meeting was Ashton's last one as EU foreign policy chief, but she is to stay on as chair of Iran nuclear talks 'till it [a deal] is done' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU states decided to uphold sanctions on Russia and to better co-ordinate their response to the Ebola crisis at a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday (20 October).

Polish FM Grzegorz Schetyna told press “the ministers spoke with one voice on the need to keep the sanctions in place … that’s the conclusion we came to and I was encouraged to see that these were not just the voices of Central and Eastern European countries”.

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He noted that Russia would have to do more than make “empty gestures” for the EU to relent.

He also said EU states fear a Russian gas cut-off in winter and that ministers spoke of “the need to show solidarity, in the form of urgent, concrete measures, if such a situation takes place”.

His remarks were echoed by the FMs of Latvia and Lithuania, but also Denmark.

“I don't think we should decrease pressure just now … we're still seeing unacceptable behaviour by Russia”, Denmark’s Martin Lidegaard said.

The meeting’s official conclusions added: there are “numerous violations” of the ceasefire accord of 5 September; there are “illegal armed groups” on Ukrainian territory; the Russia-Ukraine border is still open; and pro-Russia rebels are still holding hostages.

Their communique also urged rebel chiefs not to hold own elections in Donetsk and Luhansk in east Ukraine next month in violation of ceasefire terms.

The Luxembourg talks came amid revelations in Politico magazine that Russian leader Vladimir Putin planned the partition of Ukraine as far back as 2008.

Former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski said Putin told former Polish PM Donald Tusk on a visit to Moscow that “he wanted us [Poland] to become participants in this partition … he went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lviv is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together. Luckily, Tusk didn’t answer. He knew he was being recorded".

Sikorski later said his quotes were “not authorised” and “over-interpreted”. But he did not deny the revelations, while Schetyna declined to comment.

White helmets

Meanwhile, the EU ministers on Monday agreed limited measures to contain the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier had floated the idea of creating a new EU civilian mission of aid workers, which he called “white helmets” by analogy with the UN’s blue casques.

The Luxembourg conclusions said “the Council acknowledges the need to establish a clearing house/reserve pool of health experts from member states on [a] voluntary basis for quick and targeted deployment in health crises”.

Ministers also agreed to use EU funds to evacuate infected health workers and to appoint an “EU co-ordinator” to help states share information.

The rest of Monday’s talks were devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Libya, and Syria.

The new Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, noted that Sweden will “shortly” become the first sitting EU country to recognise Palestine.

With parliaments in Ireland and the UK calling for similar moves, Poland’s Schetyna said there is talk of “possibility of wider recognition” of Palestine if the situation does not improve.

There were no formal conclusions on the peace process, but with settlers occupying two more houses in Jerusalem’s sensitive Holy Basin the same day, Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn added: “We’ll [soon] have to tell Israel: ‘You must realise we can’t speak of the two-state solution any more because it's no longer possible”.

Ireland’s Charles Flanagan said: “We can’t continue the cycle of construction, [Israeli] destruction, and reconstruction” of EU-funded facilities in Gaza.

Libya threat

The ministers called for a “unity government” and “dialogue” between rival factions in Libya.

But Bernardino Leon, a UN special envoy, painted a worrying picture some three years after Western air strikes helped topple Muammar Gaddafi.

“Libya is divided de facto with two parallel governments. It’s divided militarily, with armed groups and militias taking over the country. It’s divided socially … but the divisions are not so deep and they should be able to redress them if there is support from Europe”.

The ministers' joint Libya statement said it is becoming a threat to European security.

“The instability in Libya poses a direct threat to the EU, through terrorism, increased irregular migration, and trafficking of illicit goods, including arms”.

EU states also blacklisted 16 more people and two entities in Syria in a sign they are not going to work with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to fight Islamic State.

They said a ban on EU exports of aviation fuel will follow.

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