Sunday

26th Jan 2020

Italy clarifies position on Russia sanctions

  • Gentiloni: 'The summit is the best place for the discussion' (Photo: Council of the EU)

Italy’s foreign minister has indicated that Rome will back extension of EU economic sanctions on Russia when leaders meet on Thursday (17 December).

Paolo Gentiloni told press after a ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday: “The roll-over of the sanctions will be taken on the basis of Minsk implementation, and this is what will happen.”

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“They [sanctions] last until the end of January, so there’s no urgency to talk about this matter [today] … we believe the summit is the best place for the discussion.”

He spoke after Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, last week, blocked a plan for EU ambassadors to extend the measures by so called written procedure, prompting speculation of a veto.

But Gentiloni’s reference to the Minsk ceasefire accord in Ukraine, which Russia has failed to implement, according to EU and UN assessments, indicates Renzi will follow the herd.

Gentiloni said he was “surprised” by the swirl of media questions on Russia, adding there’s “no ground” to say Italy is blocking the sanctions.

He also said that, despite the extension, EU states are increasingly keen to come to terms with Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

“It is true that, one year ago, Italy could have been, effectively, isolated in trying to start a dialogue with Russia, instead of building a wall. But today this is pretty much the mainstream view supported by all member states,” he said.

For her part, Federica Mogherini, the Italian EU foreign relations chief, said some foreign ministers on Monday spoke on Russia even though it wasn’t on the agenda.

“The general assessment today was going in the direction of roll-over of sanctions,” she said.

She echoed Gentiloni on Russia dialogue, adding: “Many of the member states who spoke today, I would say all of them, indicated that we’re going in the right direction on Minsk implementation, but we’re still far from full implementation, so there’s a need to roll over the sanctions for a period of time.”

Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency until 31 December, noted sanctions can be lifted at any point if the situation improves.

“If we prolong them for six months, it doesn’t mean they’ll stay in place for six months. They can be lifted at any moment by a unanimous decision,” he said.

Witold Waszczykowski, the Polish foreign minister, remained critical of Renzi’s call for summit-level talks, however. “Minsk hasn’t been realised, so it’s baseless to speak, at all, of lifting sanctions,” he said.

Lithuania’s Linas Linkevicius noted that the European Commission plans to give a positive recommendation on Ukraine visa-free travel, despite a delay in the publication of its report.

The report was due Tuesday. It’s now expected after the EU summit.

Linkevicius said the delay is “not political” but “technical,” adding: “I have no doubt it will come soon and that it will be positive.”

Nord Stream II

The summit, according to the latest draft conclusions circulated on Monday, and seen by EUobserver, is to focus on: migration; counter-terrorism; economic union; the single market; climate change; British demands for EU reform; and Syria.

The text also contains a segment on energy union, which casts a harsh light on Germany and Russia’s plan to double the capacity of their Baltic Sea gas pipeline, Nord Stream.

It says: “Any new infrastructure should entirely comply with the Third Energy Package and other applicable EU legislation as well as with the objectives of the Energy Union, such as reduction of energy dependency and diversification of suppliers, sources, and routes.”

The line reflects concern in eastern Europe that “Nord Stream II” will reduce energy security by allowing Russia to cut supplies to countries such as Lithuania or Poland without harming Germany.

South Stream

Meanwhile, Italy had planned to take part in a different Russia pipeline, called South Stream, under the Black Sea to south-east Europe.

Russia abandoned the project due to the “third package” EU energy laws, which stop Russian firm Gazprom from having full control over infrastructure.

“We expect the European Commission to apply the same rigour in evaluating the project [the Nord Stream extension] as in other projects,” Gentiloni said on Monday.

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