Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Poland attacks 'Russophile' France in sanctions talks

  • France has 'agreement in principle' to sell pig meat to Russia (Photo: Carl Jones)

A Polish minister has accused France of harming EU solidarity on Russia in a sign of tension ahead of sanctions talks.

The Polish agriculture minister, Marek Sawicki, spoke in Brussels on Monday (26 January) at a regular meeting with EU counterparts.

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  • Sawicki said the warship deal is more important to France than EU solidarity (Photo: David Monniaux)

"France and Germany are more Russophile than some other member states", he said.

"France has two ships to sell, so it’s looking for any way to improve Franco-Russian relations … France has shown many times its relations with Russia are more important to it than its relations inside the EU and that disturbs me".

He was referring to two warships which France was to deliver to Russia before the Ukraine crisis.

He was also referring to Russia’s ban last year on EU pig meat exports (on health grounds) and its later ban on most EU food in retaliation against the EU’s Ukraine-linked sanctions.

Sawicki spoke after France, one week ago, said it has a bilateral "agreement in principle" to resume pig meat sales to Russia.

The European Commission at the same timelet Russia choose which EU countries can be exempt from the wider food ban.

Sawicki said both the EU health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, and the farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, on Monday told him they didn't give a green light for bilateral deals with Russia.

He said Andriukaitis told him that Ladislav Miko, the EU commission official who negotiated the Russia terms, "had no authority" to do so.

Hogan himself told press "all member states agreed we have to show solidarity on this issue". Britain, Germany, and the Baltic states also backed the Polish line.

France, whose minister left the EU Council chamber during the Russia debate, declined to comment. But sources say it is "surprised" by Sawicki’s attack because its "technical talks" with Russia on pig meat have not concluded.

Sanction options

The food dispute highlights EU tensions ahead of foreign ministers’ talks on the Ukraine crisis on Thursday.

The EU called Thursday’s meeting when Russia-controlled fighters killed dozens of civilians in a rocket attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves said on Monday Russia’s actions "must … mean expansion of the visa sanction list and that we consider new economic sanctions".

Two EU diplomats told EUobserver the EU foreign service is identifying new names to add to blacklists and might propose listing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic as terrorist entities.

The EU foreign service declined to comment.

But German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin the EU might not adopt extra measures if there are no more attacks.

"A lot depends on how the next three days go. After the talks I've had in last days with some European colleagues, nobody is desperately ambitious to meet in Brussels to impose sanctions", he said, Reuters reports.

"But, of course, an attack or a broad offensive on Mariupol would be a qualitative change in the situation to which we would have to react".

Meanwhile, Jack Lew, the US treasury chief, who was in the EU capital on Monday, also threatened Russia with further "economic strain".

He described existing economic sanctions as "the most sophisticated ever designed", adding "we have more tools at our disposal".

Desired effect?

The sanctions stop Russian banks from raising capital on international markets, making it harder to service their dollar-denominated debt.

For his part, Marlen Kruzhkov, a US-based lawyer who represents what he calls several Russian "oligarchs", told this website the restrictions could prompt a Russian default.

"The low oil price is the main driver [of Russia’s economic problems]. The Russian economy was going downhill, but the sanctions gave it a push, so it’s going more quickly and more out of control", he said.

"There's a very good chance of a default in general and of some banks closing".

The sanctions are meant to undermine Russian support for the war on Ukraine. But Kruzhkov noted that Russian propaganda and culture stand in the way.

"So long as Russian people feel they're being targeted by a foreign enemy, and the Russian authorities have been very good at putting that across, they will forgo things. They’ll eat less. They’ll party less. They’ll suffer", he said.

"Russian people are good at suffering".

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