Thursday

21st Feb 2019

Italy delays EU decision on Russia sanctions

  • Renzi (l) often meets Putin despite the Ukraine conflict (Photo: kremlin.ru)

EU Council officials had drafted the legal act. EU capitals had given the nod. The scene was set for ambassadors, in Brussels on Wednesday (9 December), to extend, without further ado, the EU’s economic sanctions on Russia for six months.

Then Italy said No.

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An EU source familiar with Rome’s position told EUobserver: “[They’re] not blocking anything. [They] say the issue deserves a political discussion. There’s no objection in principle. But the issue deserves at least five minutes of discussion, whether in the European Council, or in another format.”

For its part, the Luxembourg EU presidency has not decided whether to call the debate at an ambassadors meeting on Thursday, an EU foreign ministers event on Monday, or the EU summit next Thursday.

But a second EU source said: “I think Italy wants to do it at the summit.”

A third source said Rome sent its instructions late on Tuesday and that its own diplomats in the EU capital are “sort of confused.”

“No one can understand what there is to discuss … But I heard the Italians are not happy about procedure. That we shouldn’t move so quickly on such an important topic, without consultations. It’s really strange.”

For his part, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has in the past criticised the EU sanctions.

He’s part of a group of Russia-friendly leaders, including the Cypriot president, the Czech president, the Greek PM, the Hungarian PM, and the Slovak PM who often meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

But Renzi, in a huddle with British, German, and US leaders, as well as the French foreign minister, at a G20 event last month personally backed the Russia extension.

Meanwhile, the other friends of Russia are toeing the EU line: that sanctions stay in place until Russia fulfills the “Minsk” ceasefire accord.

The accord says “all foreign armed formations” must leave Ukraine and that Ukraine must get back “control of the state border” with Russia.

According to Nato: “Russia has not withdrawn its troops or its equipment" and there's "a real risk of a resumption of violence."

According to a UN report, published on Wednesday: "There remains ... an inflow of ammunition, weaponry, and fighters from the Russian Federation into the territories controlled by the armed groups, leaving the situation highly flammable."

A fifth EU source said: “Minsk is not being implemented, especially not by Russia. The consensus [on sanctions renewal] is not at risk. But for now, it is 27 [member states] versus Italy."

“My guess is, it will be sorted out behind the scenes.”

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