Saturday

22nd Sep 2018

EU states agree to extend Russia sanctions

  • A branch of Russian lender Sberbank, which is under EU sanctions, in the Czech Republic (Photo: Serge Bystro)

EU countries have agreed to extend the life of Russia and Crimea sanctions, despite Kremlin diplomacy.

They took the decision by consensus at a meeting of ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday (17 June).

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It is to be rubber stamped, with no political debate, by EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.

One or other minister could, in theory, call for a discussion and block the move.

Normally, it never happens.

But the abnormal and volatile nature of the Greek bailout negotiations adds an element of uncertainty.

Tsipras

The Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, is to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Friday.

Tsipras has, in the past, criticised the EU sanctions regime, while Russia has said it might dip into its $350 billion reserve fund if Greece asks for help.

The St. Petersburg meeting has given EU and US diplomats sleepless nights on whether Tsipras will sell his EU sanctions veto.

But one EU source said Tsipras gave EU Council president Donald Tusk a face-to-face pledge he won’t.

Another source said Greece, and other sanctions critics, such as the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia, didn’t put up a fight at the ambassadors’ meeting on Wednesday.

A third source said EU states want to get the sanctions out of the way so leaders can devote time to Greece at next week’s summit.

“We don’t want the summit to be dominated by a debate on Russia”, he told EUobserver.

“It’s also a good idea to take the sanctions decision at a low, technical level in order to minimise the political reaction by Russia”.

Extension

The economic sanctions are to be extended from their expiry date, in July, until the end of January.

They were adopted last year after flight MH17 was shot down over the conflict zone and after the regular Russian army entered Ukraine.

They ban Russian banks, arms firms, and energy firms from buying long-term debt on international markets.

They also ban Russian arms and energy firms from buying high-end technology.

The Crimea sanctions, which ban almost all forms of business activity, are to be extended by one year until next June.

The EU ambassadors, on Tuesday, also got a first look at the EU foreign service’s “action plan” on how to counter Russian propaganda.

Putin

For his part, Putin has tried to target potential EU veto-wielders.

He met with Finnish president Sauli Niinisto in Moscow this week and with Italian leader Matteo Renzi in Milan last week.

He also met the Czech and Slovak heads in May and the Cypriot and Hungarian heads in February.

None of them gave a sign they would break EU solidarity on Ukraine, however.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s distribution, last month, of a visa-ban list of 89 EU officials and politicians soured relations.

An EU diplomat told this website the real list is believed to be much longer.

“It could be in the hundreds or even the thousands. But they won’t reveal its full extent because they'd lose the element of surprise, when you land in Moscow and you get turned back”, he said.

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