Monday

25th Mar 2019

Two options on Russia sanctions at EU summit

  • Hollande and Merkel in Minsk - EU diplomats expect them to take a lead in sanctions talks (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Economic sanctions on Russia are likely to be extended shortly after Thursday’s (19 March) summit or in June despite objections, diplomats say.

The leaders’ draft conclusions, dated Monday (16 March) and seen by EUobserver, still have a blank space on the thorny subject.

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But diplomatic sources say pre-summit consultations have narrowed down two options.

The first is to announce already this week that the measures, which expire in July, will be rolled over until the end of the year and to implement the move by a legal act shortly after the summit.

The second is to state, also this week, the intention to do so, but to put off a final decision until an 11th hour summit in June.

The new, end-2015 timeframe is designed to overlap with Minsk 2 commitments - a set of 13 ceasefire measures to be put in place by the end of the year, which were agreed by France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine last month.

One EU source said Council president Donald Tusk “has been in contact with capitals - his thinking is that whatever Merkel and Hollande [the German and French leaders] recommend should be implemented because they are the brokers of Minsk 2, so they have the best insight into the two other parties and what might work best”.

A second EU source said: “One camp wants to send a strong signal to Russia already in March about the need to implement Minsk 2. The second camp is saying: ‘If we extend the sanctions now, it might provoke further escalation on the ground’.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel has aligned herself with the hawkish group, which also includes the Baltic states, most Nordic countries, and Poland.

The French position is less clear. But the anti-sanctions camp includes Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Slovakia.

“We hope there will be a joint position between France and Germany”, the first EU contact noted.

In the background, Russia is courting closer ties with potential veto-wielders.

It has held high-level meetings with Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, and Spain, while the Greek PM and the EU foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, are expected in Moscow in April.

Its food safety authority has said Cyprus, Greece, and Hungary will be the first to see Russian counter-sanctions on food exports lifted if EU sanctions expire.

Its arms industry authority said it expects France to decide in May if it will deliver its “Mistral” warships before it decides whether to seek compensation.

The EU draft conclusions also envisage: pursuing closer EU ties with Georgia and Moldova on the Ukraine model; taking steps to cut energy dependence on Russia; and taking steps against Russia’s war propaganda.

“Particular efforts should be devoted to advance co-operation in state building, mobility and people-to-people contacts, market opportunities and interconnections” with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, the draft text notes.

“The European Council looks forward to the earliest possible ratification by all member states of the association agreements/deep and comprehensive free trade areas ... with Georgia, Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine”.

Non-bloc status

The summit takes place amid concern that Russia will attack the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

There is also concern it will use soft power to derail Georgia and Moldova’s EU integration.

Speaking to the Russian parliament on Monday, Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, noted: “Of crucial importance in the development of relations between Russia and the EU will be the future of countries of the ‘common neighbourhood’.”

He said Russia wants EU "co-operation in making Ukraine as well as Moldova and Georgia, booming, politically stable, friendly countries, which enjoy all benefits of a legally binding off-bloc status".

Gas

The summit's so-called Energy Union package calls for: gas and electricity interconnectors to help share power in case of a Russian cut-off; compliance with EU law on bilateral deals with Russia; and exploring joint purchases of gas.

The counter-propaganda initiative tasks Mogherini with creating a new “communication team” which is “to prepare by June an action plan on strategic communication in support of media freedom”.

The summit text also endorses finalising talks on a new EU-US free trade treaty, designed to fortify the Western alliance, “by the end of the year”.

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