Sunday

17th Feb 2019

EU preparing to extend Russia sanctions for six months

  • German leader Merkel with Putin (Photo: kremlin.ru)

EU countries are preparing to extend the life of Russia economic sanctions by six months in December, despite Moscow’s new role in fighting Islamic State (IS).

One senior EU source told EUobserver on Monday (23 November) the six-month option is “the general feeling being expressed by most member states.”

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He added, however: “There are still a few weeks to go, so let’s see what [Russian leader] Vladmir Putin has in store for us … some say the Crimea blackout is no accident.”

His mention of Crimea came after saboteurs damaged electricity pylons on the Ukrainian mainland on Saturday, briefly plunging the Russia-annexed peninsula into darkness.

A second EU contact corroborated a report by the Reuters news agency, which says France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US agreed the six-month extension in the margins of the G20 summit in Turkey last weekend.

Reuters noted that British PM David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian PM Matteo Renzi, US president Barack Obama, and French FM Laurent Fabius clinched the accord.

“This is also what we’re hearing. But the final decision will be taken by the 28 EU leaders at the summit in December. There was some discussion at the G20 event, followed by co-ordination at the G7-level,” the EU contact said, referring to the G7 group of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US.

“My country would favour extending the sanctions by one year. This would send a strong message that unless Russia fully implements Minsk [a ceasefire agreement] then sanctions will stay in place,” the EU contact added.

The source played down the notion the Crimea blackout could be a pretext for a new Russian offensive.

“One could see Moscow’s hand behind this, or other events, but without hard evidence, it’s just speculation,” he said.

A third EU diplomat noted: “EU leaders have not discussed it [sanctions] yet. It’s not for the G20 or a huddle of bigger EU member states to decide on European sanctions policy towards Russia.”

“There is, however, a sense that sanctions may be maintained in order to keep up pressure for the Minsk process to continue … It will greatly depend on the evolution of the situation.”

The EU sanctions, imposed last year, expire at the end of January unless they are extended by consensus.

The Minsk accord stipulates that all “foreign” armed forces must leave Ukrainian territory and that Russia must give back control of Ukraine’s border.

It also obliges Kiev to pass a special law on local elections in Russia-occupied territories in east Ukraine.

Hollande-Putin talks

The EU sanctions decision comes amid talks on how to involve Moscow in a more effective anti-IS coalition.

Putin has called for Western powers to join him in a "global" fight against terrorism, citing the recent attack in Mali, which claimed six Russian and two Belgian victims, as evidence of a wider threat than just IS.

French leader Francois Hollande will meet Putin in Moscow on Thursday in the aftermath of the Paris murders and the Brussels alert.

Hollande will also meet Cameron in Paris on Monday, Obama in Washington on Tuesday, and Merkel in Paris on Wednesday before going to the Russian capital.

A fourth EU diplomat said Western powers are keen to “compartmentalise” Russia relations, leaving Ukraine out of the IS equation, just as they did on Russia cooperation in the Iran nuclear talks.

EU institutions reach out to Moscow

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

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