Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

EU institutions reach out to Moscow

  • Putin: Juncker 'regrets' closer EU-Russia ties 'have not been able to develop' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU Commission has proposed closer trade ties with Russia’s new economic bloc, as the EU Parliament invites back Russian MPs.

The Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, in a letter sent to the Kremlin after last week’s G20 summit in Turkey, and seen by the Reuters news agency, said he’s asked officials to draft new proposals on cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union.

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"The decision on the circumstances in which to proceed along this path is in the hands of the member states of the European Union and should in particular be synchronised with the implementing of the Minsk agreements," he wrote, referring to the Minsk ceasfire accord on Ukraine.

He voiced “regret” that closer EU-Russia ties “have not been able to develop over the past year.”

"I can assure you that the European Commission will be a helpful partner in this process," he added.

For its part, the EU Parliament, earlier this week, also broke its taboo on hosting Russian visitors.

The Socialist group invited two senior Russian MPs, Aleksey Pushkov and Konstantin Kosachev, as well as a Kremlin advisor, Mikhail Fedotov, to a hearing on Tuesday.

Parliament president Martin Schulz and EU foreign service chief Federica Mogherini were due to take part.

But they quietly withdrew following a complaint by 17 other MEPs, mostly from eastern European countries.

“We are concerned that this conference serves as a pretext to press for ‘business as usual’ between [the] EU and Russia at a politically sensitive time,” the group-of-17 said in a letter to Schulz.

They noted Schulz had frozen Russia cooperation pending Minsk implementation and following a Russian visa ban on several MEPs.

They also complained the Socialists did not invite any delegates from Ukraine to give their point of view.

The pro-Russia initiatives come as Western leaders, from France, the UK, and the US, hold fresh talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Islamic State (IS) following the Paris attacks.

They also come amid a new flare-up in fghting in east Ukraine.

Russia-controlled forces killed six Ukrainian soldiers the same weekend that IS struck the French capital.

International monitors from the OSCE, on Wednesday, “recorded a significant increase in ceasefire violations,” citing “206 undetermined explosions and over 76 bursts of outgoing small-arms fire.”

EU leaders will, in mid-December, discuss whether to extend economic sanctions on Russia, which expire at the end of January.

EU-Russia relations will also be tested on 1 January, when an EU-Ukraine free trade treaty enters into force, with Russia threatening to impose a food export ban on Ukraine in return.

The Kremlin has, for the time being, rejected Juncker’s overture.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said on Thursday the commission chief’s “correlation with fulfilling the Minsk accords, especially in the current conditions when we see Kiev's unwillingness, once again, to honour these accords” makes his offer “hardly relevant or possible.”

The US, despite the post-Paris climate, also urged the EU to stick to its commitments.

Victoria Nuland, a senior US diplomat, told a security conference in Berlin on Wednesday: “Even as we focus on ISIL [another name for IS] … we must maintain pressure on Russia and its separatist proxies to complete the unfinished commitments of Minsk.”

“Sanctions are an essential tool for holding Russia accountable: They must be rolled over until Minsk is fully implemented.”

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