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17th Aug 2019

Greece agrees EU-Russia sanctions, defends its rights

  • Steinmeier (l) on Kotzias (r): 'What this means for future work, we cannot say' (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

The new Greek government has agreed to impose more EU sanctions on Russia, while defending its right to shape European foreign policy.

Foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday (29 January) extended the Russia blacklist for six months, promised to add extra names, and began preparations for a fresh round of economic sanctions.

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  • Talks were 'more lively ... than usual, with arguments of a fairly strong calibre', Poland said (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

The new names - individuals and entities - are to be added by 9 February at the latest.

Leaders will decide whether to move ahead on economic sanctions most likely at a summit in mid-March.

But Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that if Russia escalates the conflict, the EU can react more quickly.

“If further military operations like the ones announced [by Russia-controlled rebels in Ukraine], with a big attack on Mariupol [a Ukrainian city] take place, then Europe's reaction will be unavoidable”, he said.

The Spanish minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil, said potential new economic sanctions include “financial” and “trade” instruments.

The EU called the snap meeting after a rocket attack on Mariupol which killed 30 civilians.

It took place amid concern the new far-left Greek government would block a joint decision.

Earlier in the week, Greece abjured an EU statement blaming Russia for Mariupol. It then placed the ministers' conclusions under a “reserve”, while some Greek ministers made pro-Russia statements.

For his part, Nikos Kotzias, the new Greek foreign minister, denied that his country behaved like “a bad boy”.

He said Greece distanced itself from the EU texts because it wasn’t properly consulted, not because it didn’t like the content.

He also defended the right of minor countries to have a say on EU policy.

“The dispute wasn’t about sanctions or no sanctions. It was about the right of a small country which is in deep crisis to have its own word … we have the same rights even if we are a country in crisis”, he said.

He added that big states “use their veto every day and no one talks about it”, noting that the UK, not Greece, had threatened to veto conclusions at one point in Thursday's talks.

He also complained about media reports linking him to controversial Russian figures, such as far-right theorist Aleksandr Dugin.

Referring to a photo of them together in Greece in 2013, he said: “Dugin held a lecture at my university. I said ‘How are you?’. And that’s supposed to be big proof of my relations with oligarchs, Russians”.

He also said he aims to visit Kiev: “I’ve never been there. I heard it’s a beautiful city in a beautiful country”.

But he added EU sanctions on Russia shouldn’t go too far. "We don't want to create a broken Russia", he said.

Doubt remains

Ministers voiced sympathy for the fact Kotzias made his EU debut at an emergency meeting on a divisive dossier.

But Steinmeier, who spoke to him one-to-one, did not exclude that Greece could be a problem in future.

“In the end we managed to convince our Greek colleague to back today's text. What this means for future work, we cannot say”, the German minister noted.

“Hopefully, he’ll be given room for manoeuvre in future [by the Greek government] to adopt positions which are compatible with the European position”.

Greece aside, ministers said Thursday’s talks saw heated exchanges between hawks and doves.

Hungary, which in the past criticised Russia sanctions, insisted the conclusions urge "all sides" to comply with ceasefire terms instead of just Russia.

The Slovenian foreign minister told press: "Further economic sanctions against Russia will be ineffective".

Poland’s Grzegorz Schetyna noted: “It was a more lively discussion than usual, with arguments of a fairly strong calibre”.

Propaganda

Belgium’s Didier Reynders said ministers also agreed to launch efforts to counter Russian war propaganda.

He said the EU will help existing European media, including online media, to extend the reach of their reporting on the Ukraine crisis.

“The idea is to help them tell the truth, the facts, not to do our own propaganda … We don’t want to create a European equivalent of the Russian propaganda machine. That would be against our values”.

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