Saturday

16th Feb 2019

EU likely to extend Russia sanctions before summit

  • Another day: "undetermined explosions, and numerous bursts and single shots of heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire" (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

The EU is preparing to extend its economic sanctions on Russia before the June summit, as Russian diplomats target a winter deadline instead.

The preferred option of EU Council chief Donald Tusk is for EU states' ambassadors to conclude the Russia decision so that leaders can focus on the aftermath of the UK referendum.

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  • Russia setting its sights on blocking sanctions in winter, diplomats said (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

A few Russia-friendly EU countries have told the Dutch EU presidency they wanted a debate on Russia relations, however.

The compromise could be to do the sanctions first but for leaders to still hold talks on Russia at the summit on 28 and 29 June.

“Our consultations [among member states], the G7 summit all point in the same direction - full roll-over for six months by Coreper [the EU ambassadors’ group] before the summit”, one EU source told EUobserver.

“There could be a discussion on Russia at the summit, but not on sanctions”, the source said.

EU leaders imposed the measures, which include curbs on credit to Russian banks and energy firms, after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. They expire on 31 July unless they are renewed by consensus.

At a recent G7 summit in Japan, Italy, which had flip-flopped on Russia, joined France, Germany, the UK and the US in pledging to uphold the sanctions.

A second EU source said if the decision to extend them was taken by Coreper, that would mean it was a done deal.

“It would mean that there’s no doubt on the outcome … If there was a real [cavalry] charge by a group of member states [to stop the sanctions], the decision would have to happen at a higher level”, the source said.

A third EU source said that a “group of eastern European countries” had told the Dutch EU presidency that they wanted a debate on Russia.

He did not name them, but Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary and Slovakia have publicly criticised EU sanctions policy.

Under EU rules, Council chief Tusk decides the summit agenda but the Dutch presidency decides the Coreper agenda.

The complications meant that the Coreper option “isn’t a done deal yet”, the source said.

A diplomat from one EU state said: “If I were a betting man I would say that sanctions will be rolled over at Coreper level before the summit, but that a [summit] debate may be thrown in as a gesture to those who ask for one”.

“That in itself could be construed as a victory for Putin”, he said, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The EU has tied the sanctions to fulfilment of the Minsk ceasefire accord, a deal struck by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in Belarus last year.

The accord said that “foreign”, meaning Russian, soldiers must leave Ukraine and that it must get back control of its Russia border. It also said Ukraine must alter its constitution to devolve power to regions and hold local elections in what are today Russia-occupied territories.

A second EU diplomat said Russia is still urging the EU to immediately halt sanctions.

“They are saying: ‘How come you’re imposing sanctions on one side [Russia] of Minsk when the other side [Ukraine] is not in compliance either?’,” the diplomat said.

But he said that Russian diplomats “seem resigned” to the six-month roll-over in June. He also said their Minsk complaints are designed to build a case for stopping the next renewal, due in January.

Winter

“It would be harder to get a consensus on sanctions renewal in winter if the situation stayed the same”, the diplomat said.

“A lot will depend on what Ukraine delivers … If it doesn’t move ahead on issues such as the constitutional law, that will help the Russian argument in Europe”, he said.

He said that European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s upcoming visit to Russia was intended to show that EU institutions are open to “selective engagement”.

The war in east Ukraine has lasted two years and cost more than 10,000 lives.

In what was a normal day in the conflict, international monitors, the OSCE, on Monday in Yasynuvata, in the Dontesk region “heard more than 200 undetermined explosions, and numerous bursts and single shots of heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire”.

One night earlier, in Stanytsia Luhanska in the Luhansk region, monitors heard “266 explosions”.

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