Friday

23rd Oct 2020

Merkel criticises Putin for broken promise on Ukraine

  • Putin told EU leaders in Milan he doesn't want a Transniestria in Ukraine (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Most EU leaders on Thursday (23 October) criticised Russia’s non-compliance with peace accords on Ukraine, but Italy urged re-engagement with Moscow.

German chancellor Angela Merkel told press after the summit in Brussels that pro-Russia fighters in Donetsk and Luhansk in east Ukraine are making unwelcome “facts on the ground”.

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Russia and Ukraine in Minsk on 5 September agreed, as part of a ceasefire, that Ukrainian authorities would organise regional elections in the rebel zones in December as a concession on decentralising power.

But the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” are preparing to hold their own votes in November amid ongoing claims to independence.

Merkel blamed Russian leader Vladimir Putin, noting that he promised her in Milan last week to use his influence on the separatists to stop the Minsk accord from creating a frozen conflict.

She noted: “This [the November election] is a contradiction to what Russia said: ‘No. We don’t want a frozen conflict, another Transniestria [a Russia-controlled, de facto state in Moldova]. We will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine’.”

The EU leaders agreed a joint statement which calls on Russia to honour its commitments.

A draft of the communique - which is to be formalised on Friday - confirms the EU will uphold Russia sanctions for now.

“The European Council recalled previous EU decisions on restrictive measures … [and] will remain seized with the situation in Ukraine”, it says.

“The Russian Federation … should assume its responsibilities for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. In particular, Russian authorities should prevent any movement of military, weapons, or fighters from its territory into Ukraine. They should exercise their influence to ensure that the separatists implement in good faith the obligations assumed in Minsk”.

But for his part, Italian PM Matteo Renzi surprised fellow leaders by urging them to bring Putin back in from the cold.

A senior EU source told EUobserver Renzi “gave a half-hour speech about the need to ‘engage constructively’," with Moscow.

With EU states’ ambassadors to hold a formal review of Russia sanctions at the end of October, an EU diplomat added: “Renzi's intervention went down quite badly. Several leaders openly told him that it [the sanctions review] was not a subject for today’s meeting”.

“Now is not the right time for any review of sanctions”, Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka told press.

Renzi chatted with Italian reporters for a few minutes as he was leaving the summit, but he did not mention Russia.

Italian diplomats could not be contacted for a comment.

Ebola screening

EU leaders also voiced alarm over the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

Their draft communique notes “the scale of the epidemic is a threat not only to the economy and the stability of the affected countries, but ... to the region as a whole”.

“With the first confirmed cases of Ebola infections in Europe, the state of preparedness within the European Union and further work to protect European Union countries and their citizens are of utmost importance”.

The leaders say there is a need for “reinforced exit screening” of people coming from west Africa to Europe.

In a nod to British demands, they stress the importance of “co-ordinated preventive actions within the EU, such as entry screening”.

They agreed to step up “care for international health workers … including through medical evacuation”.

They also appointed Christos Stylianides, Cyprus' incoming commissioner on humanitarian aid, as an EU "co-ordinator" on the crisis.

French president Francois Hollande told journalists there is a need to avoid “panic” in Europe, but also a need to avert a potential “catastrophe”.

He said Ebola can spread “exponentially” if left unchecked and that he will impose screening not just at French airports, but at all entry points from west Africa to France.

EU to uphold Russia sanctions

EU states decided to uphold sanctions on Russia and to better co-ordinate their response to the Ebola crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

EU and UN reject 'farcical' east Ukraine votes

The EU, the UN, and Nato have rejected the outcome of “so-called elections” in east Ukraine, but Russia and a handful of fringe MEPs gave their stamp of approval.

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