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15th May 2021

EU leaders agree to uphold Russia sanctions, US says

  • Leaders met in Hannover on Monday afternoon, prior to Obama's return to the US (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

Western European and US leaders have agreed to keep economic sanctions on Russia unless it stops the war in Ukraine, the US says, as French MPs prepare to debate lifting the measures.

The White House statement after the meeting in the Schloss Herrenhausen in Hannover, Germany, on Monday (25 April) said: “On Ukraine, leaders reiterated their rejection of Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of the Crimea.

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  • Earlier on Monday, Obama praised Merkel's handling of the refugee crisis (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

“There was agreement that full implementation of the Minsk agreements remained crucial. The leaders reiterated that sanctions against Russia would be lifted if the Minsk agreements were fully implemented.”

The Minsk accord was agreed by France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine in the Belarusian capital in February 2015.

Its full implementation would force Russian forces out of east Ukraine and restore Ukraine’s control of its borders in return for semi-autonomy for Russia-occupied regions.

It says nothing on Crimea, which is covered by a separate set of sanctions.

The British statement on Monday said: “On Russia/Ukraine, they agreed on the importance of continuing to encourage Russia to behave responsibly and in accordance with international law, and to fully implement Minsk.”

The German statement spoke only of “concern … on the situation in Ukraine”. The French and Italian leaders attended the meeting but did not issue statements.

Earlier in the day, US president Barack Obama said in a speech “we need to keep sanctions on Russia in place” until it stops the war.

He also told the CBS broadcaster that Russian leader Vladimir Putin was trying to exploit the refugee crisis to divide Europe.

He spoke of “the strain it [the crisis] is putting on Europe's politics, the way that it advances far-right nationalism, the degree to which it is encouraging a break-up of European unity, that in some cases, is being exploited by somebody like Mr Putin.

“I’ve indicated to him that, in fact, a strong, unified Europe working with a strong, outward-looking Russia, that's the right recipe. So far, he has not been entirely persuaded.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel and British PM David Cameron have been staunch advocates of a tough line on Russia.

French president Francois Hollande has voiced more interest in rapprochement, while Italian PM Matteo Renzi, who often meets Putin, has been more reluctant to toe the line.

EU leaders will decide whether to extend the economic measures, which expire in July, at their regular summit in June.

Their diplomats have yet to start discussions in the EU Council in Brussels. But debate is already flaring at the national level.

National debates

Merkel’s coalition partner, the centre-left SPD party, has said there is a need for "dialogue" with Russia and voiced interest in restoring Russian membership of the G8 group of world powers.

More than 80 French MPs, primarily from the centre-right opposition Republicans party, have also tabled a non-binding resolution that urges Hollande to scrap sanctions.

The motion, initiated by Thierry Mariani, a leading Russia sympathiser, in March bemoans the cost of Russian counter-sanctions on French farmers and the loss of French arms sales to Russia.

It says the sanctions have proved “ineffective” on Ukraine and that France needs to cooperate with Russia to defeat the Islamic State jihadist group.

Speaking to Russia’s Tass news agency, Mariani said the resolution would be debated on 28 April.

Speaking to the Izvestia daily, Alexei Pushkov, the chair of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said: “I've just received a delegation of German Social Democrats who ... told me, among other things, their party opposes sanctions against members of parliament.

“We've [also] been told by Greeks, Cypriots, Italians, Austrians, and the French the sanctions against members of parliaments run counter to the principles of democracy.”

Priorities

Despite Obama’s strident words on Russia, the German, UK, and US statements on Tuesday put the migration crisis and the Syria war as top priorities.

The US indicated it was ready to expand a Nato surveillance mission on migrant smugglers in the Aegean sea and to send warships to help an EU naval mission, Sophia, in the central Mediterranean.

“The leaders also urged Nato and the EU to draw on their experience in the Aegean to explore how they could work together to address in an orderly and humane way migrant flows in the central Mediterranean,” it said.

The German statement said: “The United States wanted to help counteract illegal migration.”

It added that “the US would be - if necessary - ready to take responsibility … [on] the migration route from Libya to Italy”.

The UK statement said the EU should help “build the capacity of the Libyan coast guard to help stem the flow of illegal migration across the Mediterranean into Europe”.

Nato and Russia trade accusations

Renewed Nato-Russia talks ended in “profound disagreement” on Wednesday (20 April) over Ukraine and over Russia’s harassment of Nato assets.

Obama urges EU nations to stick together

US president Barack Obama said the world “needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe” and praised German chancellor Angela Merkel for welcoming refugees.

Juncker agrees to visit Russia in June

The EU Commission chief will attend an economic forum in Russia next month, just days before EU countries decide on whether to extend economic sanctions.

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