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24th Aug 2019

Russia to oppose EU sinking of migrant smuggler boats

  • Mogherini discussed the plan with Lavrov in New York last week (Photo: un.or)

Russia has indicated it will block UN approval of EU plans to sink migrant smugglers’ boats, but says the disagreement isn’t linked to Ukraine.

Vladimr Chizhov, its EU ambassador, told press in Brussels on Tuesday (5 May) that “apprehending human traffickers and arresting these vessels is one thing, but destroying them would be going too far”.

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“We can’t support going as far as destroying ships, well, basically without a court order from courts in the country whose flag flies on that particular vessel - that would be in contravention of all existing norms of international law”.

He noted the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, discussed the issue with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, last week at the UN Security Council in New York, where Moscow holds a veto.

EU leaders agreed, at an emergency summit last month, to launch a military operation against the smugglers, modelled on the Atalanta anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean.

The Russian opposition comes in the context of the rift over Ukraine.

The leaders of all but five EU countries - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, and Slovakia - plan to boycott a WWII memorial in Moscow on 9 May.

The EU is resisting Russian proposals to delay the entry into life of the EU-Ukraine free trade treaty by one more year.

It is also planning to renew, in June, its economic sanctions on Russia.

But Chizhov said the two sides are continuing to co-operate on Middle East issues, trade, gas, and bilateral relations.

“Anyone who speaks of the so-called isolation of Russia should watch the TV and read the newspapers more often. Russian diplomacy is as active as ever”, he noted.

“Right now, minister Lavrov is meeting with his Austrian counterpart. The day after tomorrow, [German foreign] minister Steinmeier is flying to Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad [the site of a WWII battle] - that’s a very substantial visit. Russia is actively contributing to the Middle East Peace Process. We’re discussing Libya with the European Union. We’re discussing Yemen - our airforce is even bringing out EU and US nationals from Yemen”.

He added that EU, Ukrainian, and Russian officials held talks on Ukraine free trade last month, with a possible minister-level meeting at the end of May.

He also said three-way gas talks mean “[Russian] gas is flowing both to Ukraine and through Ukraine to EU member states”.

One more year?

Chizhov noted the April trade meeting saw Russia “float the idea” of postponing implementation of the trade treaty, which, Russia says, will flood its markets with EU products, from 2016 to 2017.

Germany, in early April, endorsed “maximum flexibility” on “Russia’s concerns” in a letter to European Commisson chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

But Chizhov added: “I didn’t have the impression that it [the proposal for another delay] was met with great enthusiasm on the part of the Ukrainian delegation or on the part of the European Commission”.

A draft declaration, to be adopted by EU leaders at a summit with post-Soviet states in Riga later this month, also indicates Juncker will stick to 2016.

The text, seen by Reuters, commits to 2016 and says implementation "will be a top priority of the EU”.

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EU mission could endanger refugees, UN warns

A senior UN official has warned the EU that “innocent refugees” will be “in the line of fire” of any operation to sink migrant smugglers’ boats.

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