Thursday

13th May 2021

EU talks fail to stop Russia sanctions on Ukraine

  • Juncker (l), Putin, and Merkel at the Paris summit (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Russia is preparing trade sanctions against Ukraine after 11th-hour talks in Brussels on Tuesday (1 December) ended in recriminations.

Alexei Ulyukayev, Russia’s trade minister, told press after the meeting: "It’s a very probable scenario that there won’t be an agreement before 1 January and the non-preferential trade regime will be introduced."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Malmstroem: 'Clock ticking very, very fast'

"As there is now too little time left, it requires extraordinary efforts to reach an agreement."

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, called Russia’s demands "unacceptable" and "absurd."

The EU’s trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, who mediated the event, said expert-level talks could reconvene next week.

"If there's a will we can do it … [but] the clock is ticking very, very fast," she said.

She noted the EU won't postpone or to change the content of the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement. "On 1 January, the DCFTA [the trade pact] will enter into force," the Swedish politician said.

Russia's demands, according to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, citing an internal EU note, include that Ukraine adopts Russian phytosanitary standards and that the EU and Ukraine share privileged information on bilateral customs transactions.

The phytosanitary step would, for instance, oblige Kiev to honour Moscow's food import bans, such as the one it imposed on EU producers.

The DCFTA is designed to decouple the Ukrainian economy from Russia and to align it with the EU single market.

The strategic shift, described by some experts as "EU accession-lite," helped prompt last year’s Maidan revolution when the former Ukrainian regime refused to sign the pact.

Ukrainian agricultural exports to Russia have already plunged by 75 percent, or some $1 billion a year, due to the conflict.

Its economy would lose another $1.5 billion a year in industrial exports if Ulyukayev makes good on his threat.

'Russia’s wishes'

For its part, Berlin has proposed signing a political statement on EU cooperation with Russia’s Eurasian Union as a way of mollifying Moscow.

Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier put forward the idea in a letter to Malmstroem, seen by the FT, which says the EU should “create [political] space and move towards Russia.”

"By the content of this declaration we could respond to Russia’s wishes and begin a closer exchange of views on energy and investment protection issues," he said.

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, in a letter to the Kremlin in November, proposed a similar initiative.

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

Juncker and German chancellor Angela Merkel also met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the margins of the climate summit in Paris on Monday.

Gas tensions

The overtures have prompted concern in easterly EU capitals the bloc won’t extend Russia sanctions when they expire in January.

Germany’s plan to add a new leg to its Russia gas pipeline, Nord Stream, is also causing tension.

Ten EU states - Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia - in a letter this week to EU Council chief Donald Tusk called for a summit debate on the scheme.

"The position of the European Commission on the Nord Stream II project will … influence the perception of the EU's common foreign and security policy among its core allies," the letter, seen by the Reuters news agency, says.

It adds that Nord Stream II would harm Ukraine.

"Preserving the transport route through Ukraine is in the strategic interest of the EU as a whole, not only from an energy security perspective, but also reinforcing the stability of the eastern European region."

EU sanctions

But Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov, on Monday, distanced himself from the appeal.

"I will defend the position for the construction of Nord Stream II and [the construction of a Russian] gas hub in Bulgaria - it’s advantageous for the country and nobody can reproach me for that," he told press, Reuters reports.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is also in Cyprus on Wednesday to seek support on EU sanctions.

France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US have outlined a deal to extend EU economic measures for six months.

The Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, who takes over the EU Council presidency on 1 January, recently told EUobserver he’s "aware" of the accord, but said "discussions are ongoing" on how to proceed.

The Cypriot foreign ministry told this website on Tuesday: "We have always expressed the need for a diplomatic solution in Ukraine and viewed the adoption of restrictive measures as a tool in achieving this, not as a goal in itself.”

It added: "Having said that, in view of the upcoming expiration of restrictive measures, we will review the situation together with our EU partners and take appropriate decisions on the basis of consensus."

Opinion

Ukraine: Notes from a European construction site

Ukraine today resembles a giant construction site. Many of its achievements are unseen. Many still left to build. But its people deserve Europe's support, writes its ambassador to the EU.

News in Brief

  1. No EUobserver newsletter on Friday 14 May
  2. Germany stops Facebook gathering WhatsApp data
  3. Italy rebuts reports of EU deal with Libya
  4. MEPs demand EU states protect women's reproductive rights
  5. At least nine dead in Russia school shooting
  6. Bulgaria interim government appointed until July election
  7. German priests defy pope to bless same-sex couples
  8. New EU public prosecutor faults Slovenia

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU aims at 'zero pollution' in air, water and soil by 2050
  2. French police arrest Luxembourg former top spy
  3. Vaccine drives spur better-than-expected EU economic recovery
  4. Slovenia causing headaches for new EU anti-graft office
  5. 'No place to hide' in Gaza, as fighting escalates
  6. EU chases 90m AstraZeneca vaccines in fresh legal battle
  7. Fidesz MEP oversees FOI appeals on disgraced Fidesz MEP
  8. Belgium outlines summer Covid relaxation plans

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us