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22nd Sep 2019

Spain: Russia sanctions 'beneficial for no one'

  • Garcia-Margallo (c) at a recent EU foreign ministers' event (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Spain on Tuesday (10 March) joined a list of EU countries which are publicly critical of Russia sanctions and keen to mend ties.

The Spanish foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, told press in Moscow after meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that “keeping or lifting sanctions depends on whether the agreements on Ukraine are being implemented or not. They [sanctions] are beneficial for no one”.

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Referring to the recent “Minsk” ceasefire accord, he added: "The Minsk agreements are [being] observed, there’s good news, [heavy] weaponry is being withdrawn … so, I don't see [any reason for] expanding sanctions”.

He also noted that Russia’s counter-ban on EU food imports is hurting the Spanish economy and said the EU must take Russia’s interests into account in its relations with Ukraine.

“Sanctions are inflicting great damage to the Spanish economy … We have big losses, especially in the agriculture sector”, he said.

“I think that we need to somehow include Russia’s interests in the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union - this agreement needs to be complemented by co-operation with Russia.”

For his part, Lavrov told media: “We did not discuss sanctions, they were not our choice. We are not going to persuade or ask our European friends about anything. Life will arrange everything back to order.”

He added, however: “I would appreciate and prefer a situation where each EU member country would be guided by its national interests.”

He accused EU officials of “[trying] to pretend that no progress is being made in fulfilling the military clauses of the Minsk agreements” and of “deliberately escalating the confrontation with Russia”.

But he described Spain as a “long-standing and reliable partner” and called the Ukraine crisis “a rough patch” in EU-Russia relations.

The two countries also revived an “inter-agency working group” on counter-terrorism and smoothed arrangements for Spanish families to adopt Russian children.

Assessments differ to what extent Russia is honouring the Minsk pact.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk has said Russian forces violated the accord more than 1,000 times since it was signed last month.

The US' top diplomat on Ukraine, Victoria Nuland, told Congress on Tuesday that: “Just yesterday, shelling continued in Shyrokyne - a key village on the way to Mariupol [in south-east Ukraine] - and outside Donetsk on the weekend ... and just in the last few days, we can confirm new transfers of Russian tanks, armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and rocket equipment over the border to the separatists in eastern Ukraine”.

Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko has also warned that, as with a previous ceasefire last September, Russia is using the current lull in fighting to rearm and regroup in what look like preparations for a new offensive.

Meanwhile, EU diplomats have agreed to extend, for six months, a blacklist of some 150 people and 37 entities in Ukraine on the Russian side.

The extension is to be rubber-stamped by EU transport ministers on Friday, barring last-minute objections.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels next week will also discuss the big-ticket item - economic sanctions on Russia - which will expire in July unless all 28 EU states agree to roll them over.

EU diplomats say the most likely, or "lowest common denominator", outcome is to extend them for six months.

Garcia-Margallo’s remarks on Tuesday toed the EU line that sanctions depend on Russia’s actions on the ground.

But his Russia-friendly tone aligns Spain with a growing group of EU states who would be happy to go back to business as usual if Russia freezes the status quo.

The leaders of Cyprus, Hungary, and Italy went further than Spain by meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in recent weeks.

The Italian PM, Matteo Renzi, said in Moscow that Russia’s international isolation should end if he respects the Minsk accords.

"History has shown that without Russia it is a lot more complicated to find a balance [in international crises],” he said.

EU leaders undecided on Russia sanctions

EU leaders have not yet agreed what to say on Russia sanctions at next week’s summit, despite harsh words on Moscow by EU Council chief Tusk in the US.

Renzi seeks to end Putin's international isolation

Putin should be enrolled in efforts to stabilise Libya, Syria and Iraq – ending his Ukraine-related international isolation – provided the ceasefire is fully respected, Renzi has said.

Cyprus praises Russia, lets in warships

The Cypriot president has, on a visit to Moscow, showcased his country’s economic dependence on Russia and the threat to EU and US unity on sanctions.

Bulgaria tries to warm up Russia ties

Bulgaria is trying to warm up relations with Russia, amid iciness over its support for EU sanctions and its cancellation of major Russian energy projects.

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