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20th Apr 2019

French MPs call to lift Russia sanctions

  • Mariani: EU sanctions on Russia 'are totally ineffective to reach peace and dangerous for our economy' (Photo: Toms Norde, Valsts kanceleja)

The French National Assembly on Thursday (28 April) adopted a resolution calling for the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia.

The resolution, which is non-binding and which was voted against the French government's advice, was adopted by 55 votes in favour, 44 against, and two abstentions.

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"This is totally unhoped for," the promoter of the text, Thierry Mariani from the centre-right Les Republicains party (LR), told Le Figaro newspaper after the event.

Only a minority of the assembly’s 577 MPs participated in the meeting, which mobilised Russia sanctions critics. Fewer than 15 percent of the ruling Socialist party’s MPs were present compared to 22.9 percent of right-leaning MPs.

The resolution was passed on the basis of LR votes, as well as positive votes by three centrists, the two far-right MPs, one MP for the Left Front and two dissenting Socialists.

The EU sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 over its involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine are "totally ineffective to reach peace and are dangerous for our economy," Mariania said during the debate.

He said the EU sanctions had been “strongly encouraged by the US” but were “contrary to Franco-Russian interests” and had harmed the “economic relations that bind Europe, France and Russia".

He also said EU-mediated peace talks were “at a dead-end" and that the Ukrainian government was incapable of reforms.

Russia’s counter-sanctions, which centre on a ban on EU food exports, were "seriously penalising" French farmers, LR, which is close to farmers' lobbies, said.

"Did you know that a camembert cheese is more dangerous that a helicopter?," Mariani joked, referring to the fact that a US company produces helicopters in Russia despite America’s tough talk on Russia.

Minsk accord

Mariani’s resolution also said: “We cannot ask Russia to be a partner in the fight against Daesh [the Islamic State jihadist group] and at the same time ask for sanctions.”

During the debate, French EU affairs minister Harlem Desir said the EU sanctions were "not an end in itself" but a way to keep Russia at the negotiation table.

He said Russia has to "ensure the respect of the ceasefire, put the necessary pressure on separatists to stop their military activities on the ground and take part in the political discussions.”

He added that Ukraine must implement constitutional reform to decentralise powers to Russia-occupied regions.

"We hope that sanctions will be lifted, in relation with a settlement of the crisis in the Donbass [east Ukraine]. If the Minsk agreement is respected, sanctions will be lifted," Desir said, in what he called the EU's "unanimous position".

LR group leader Christian Jacob said the vote should make the government “change the direction of its policy towards Russia.”

Some in the party, which is led by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, have in the past voiced sympathy for Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its authoritarian president Vladimir Putin.

Friends of Russia

Mariani, who is co-president of an association called Dialogue Franco-Russe, goes regularly to Moscow and has close relations with Russian officials, including people under EU and US sanctions.

He is regularly interviewed by Russian media, especially by the French-language branches of Sputnik and RT, which portray him as being representative of French politicians.

Mariani also went several times to Damascus where he met Russian ally Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

The last time was in March. Other politicians who went included officials from the far-right National Front party, who posted a selfie with Assad on social media.

Assad is accused of war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Thursday's vote "is a good reflection of a state of mind that is a majority in the right," an LR official told Le Monde newspaper.

But the official, who is said to be close to Alain Juppe, Sarkozy's main competitor to be the party's candidate at next year's presidential election, added that the demand to lift EU sanctions "is not the official line of the party" as a whole.

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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.

Focus

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Europe is losing out to China on exports to Russia. EU sanctions are one likely reason, but they have had scant political impact because most of the world continues to do business as usual with Moscow.

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