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23rd Mar 2019

EU summit to hold 'surprising' Russia sanctions debate

  • Polish minister said he's ready to take Italy to task for Renzi's decision (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders will, this week, on Italy’s request debate whether to extend Russia sanctions, in a move called “surprising” by Poland.

Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian foreign minister, told press in Brussels on Monday (14 December): “This is on the table for the European Council on 17 and 18 December and, frankly, I don’t foresee a big discussion.”

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He added: “Nobody is ‘for’ or ‘against’ sanctions. It’s not a matter of principle. We’ve all said the decision on roll-over of sanctions should be taken according to the assessment of Minsk protocol implementation … I think this is what the Europan Council will do.”

Gentiloni spoke after Italy, last week, blocked EU ambassadors from extending Russia economic sanctions for six months.

Diplomatic sources say the instructions came directly from Italian PM Matteo Renzi’s office.

The Minsk ceasefire accord, signed by Russia, says all “foreign armed formations” must leave Ukraine and that Ukraine must get back control of its border.

But UN, Nato, and EU assessments say neither of the conditions has been met.

For his part, the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, a Russia hawk, said that if Gentiloni mentions sanctions at Monday’s ministerial event, then he'll ask why Renzi said No.

“The Minsk accords haven’t been implemented, so I’m surprised that Italy wants to raise the question of sanctions,” he said.

The Belgian, Lithuanian, and Swedish foreign ministers told press sanctions should be extended.

EU top diplomat Federica Mogherini, who is coordinating the joint EU position, said she expects leaders to endorse the roll-over. “I don’t see any problems in major [EU] states on the political decision,” she said.

For its part, the European Commission had also planned, on Tuesday, to publish a report recommending that EU countries grant visa-free travel to Ukraine next year.

A commission spokesman, on Monday, declined to confirm or deny reports that the recommendation, like the Russia sanctions decision, is to be postponed until after the EU summit.

But he noted that Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko will be in Brussels on Wednesday to take stock of relations.

The EU commissioner in charge of Ukraine ties, Johannes Hahan, said on Monday it’s “possible and realistic” that EU capitals will in 2016 endorse the visa-free step, which he described as being important for “peace and stability in the region.”

Slovak FM Miroslav Lajcak noted: “I don’t see any obstacles, anyone wishing to spoil the process.”

But Luxembourg FM Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the EU presidency, urged Kiev to speed up anti-corruption reforms.

Turkey-Russia confrontation

The foreign ministers will, on Monday, also discuss: counter-terrorism cooperation; Libya unity government talks; and Burundi violence.

They'll meet with Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, over lunch to discuss the war in Syria.

The meeting comes amid an ongoing confrontation between Russia and Turkey.

Turkey, last month, shot down a Russian jet it said violated its airspace. A Russian ship, over the weekend, fired warning shots at a Turkish fishing boat in the Aegean Sea.

“Our patience has a limit,” Cavusoglu told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview out Monday.

Russia is accusing the family of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of buying oil from Islamic State (IS) in Syria in violation of UN sanctions.

The Belgian and Luxembourg foreign ministers said Monday they'll urge Cavusoglu to clamp down on IS financial flows.

They also said Turkey should do more to seal its border with Syria to stop “foreign fighters,” radicalised EU nationals, from going back and forth.

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