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29th Mar 2020

EU to keep Russia sanctions until next year

  • EU leaders on Thursday hold minute's silence for victims of the Tunisia attack (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders have decided to maintain economic sanctions on Russia until the end of the year.

They said in a joint statement on Thursday (19 March) in Brussels the “restrictive measures against the Russian Federation … should be clearly linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements, bearing in mind that this is only foreseen by 31 December 2015”.

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The Minsk accords, negotiated by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine last month, envisage 13 measures over the next nine months.

They include - crucially - restoring Ukraine’s control of its border with Russia under international monitoring.

EU leaders noted that “necessary decisions” - the legal acts needed to extend the sanctions regime - “will be taken in the coming months”.

They added: “The European Council stands ready to take further measures if necessary”.

The sanctions prohibit purchase of long-term bonds from leading Russian banks, energy, and arms firms. They also forbid exports of high-end technology for oil and gas exploration.

They were imposed last July for one year and must be renewed by EU consensus before they expire.

The “further measures” are what EU diplomats are calling “deeper” sanctions. They were recently drafted by the EU foreign service and the European Commission in case Russia escalates the conflict.

The summit outcome is a compromise between hawks, who wanted to enact the legal extension now, and doves, who said Russia is less likely to make peace if the EU decision is set in stone.

Opinion on Minsk implementation differs in Europe.

Spain, a dove, recently said Russia is complying with the ceasfire.

But EU Council chief Donald Tusk, a Pole, said Russia violated it more than 1,000 times in the past six weeks.

Asked by press on Thursday if there’s a chance the sanctions won’t be renewed, Tusk replied: “My intuition is less important than what we have in the conclusions”.

“After meeting president Hollande [of France] and chancellor Merkel [of Germany], our decision is very clear - to maintain the sanctions until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented”.

Angela Merkel herself, in a separate press briefing, said there is a "political commitment" to extend the sanctions and the legal decision "will be" adopted later.

Opinion on the value of the summit decision also differs.

One EU diplomat told EUobserver: “This is a good decision because it maintains EU unity instead of throwing the spotlight on internal divisions … We have plenty of time until July”.

A second EU diplomat said: “[Russian leader] Putin’s aides are telling him not to worry, that the sanctions will lapse in August. But today we sent a clear signal - pull back or else”.

Economic sanctions aside, EU leaders underlined that a separate set of prohibitions, on doing business in Crimea, which Russia annexed last year, will stay in place for the long term.

They said they will continue to build closer ties with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine despite the Ukraine conflict, hinting at potential visa-free travel agreements by May.

“Efforts should be devoted to advance … mobility and people-to-people contacts”, the summit conclusions note.

But Merkel underlined there is no done deal. "We'll have to wait and see how things develop [on visa-free]", she told press.

UK fund

For its part, the UK, long an advocate of EU enlargement, also on Thursday unveiled a new “good governance” fund.

The idea is to spend £20 million (€28mn) or so a year over the next three to four years on building up institutions in Bosnia, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia, and Ukraine.

The money is to pay for British experts to advise governments on law enforcement, energy security, banking reform, tax collection, and anti-corruption measures.

“We’re targeting places which are facing some processes from the other side”, a British source told this website.

“The reality is that Russia is undertaking various activities in the region. These countries need to take some hard decisions based on good advice”.

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