Saturday

23rd Feb 2019

EU diplomats to extend Russia sanctions next week

  • Juncker (l) held private talks with Putin on Thursday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The EU is planning to extend Russia economic sanctions without much political ado at an ambassadors’ meeting next week.

The Dutch EU presidency has pencilled in the item on the agenda of an ambassadors’ meeting at the EU Council in Brussels on Tuesday (21 June).

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  • Commission president said earlier same day sanctions to stay in place until Russia complies with Minsk accord (Photo: forumspb.tassphoto.com)

If all EU states’ diplomats agree, the extension, for another six months, will be formalised with no further political debate by EU countries’ ministers meeting in the General Affairs Council on Friday, three days later.

The plan, one EU source said, indicates that there is a consensus for the roll-over despite earlier grumblings by some Russia-friendly states, such as Greece, Hungary and Italy.

It is also intended to avoid a debate on Russia by EU leaders at the post-Brexit vote summit.

But the EU source warned the plan could still be changed due to the sensitive and volatile nature of the dossier. “Nothing is confirmed yet … you never know what developments could come up at the last minute”, the source said.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday, one day ahead of the ambassadors’ decision, are not planning to talk about Russia, a senior EU official said on Friday.

But for his part, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker held tete-a-tete talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin at a business forum in St Petersburg on Thursday.

He said in a speech ahead of the meeting that sanctions would only be lifted when Russia complies with the so-called Minsk ceasefire accord on Ukraine.

He also told press prior while meeting Putin: “I arrived in Russia, because I wanted to see you. Some in Europe, of course, did not agree with this idea, but I liked it. Because just at the moment when there are problems between us, we have to meet and talk.”

The Minsk deal says “foreign”, meaning Russian, fighters, must leave Ukraine and that Russia must hand back control of the border. It also says Ukraine must devolve power to what are today Russia-occupied regions in local elections.

An EU diplomat said EU states expected Juncker to deliver the same message on Minsk in the private meeting with Putin as he did in his speech.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, gave an indication of what Putin is likely to have said.

Lavrov said in a public debate also on Thursday at the St Petersburg forum that EU policy on Russia is being driven by a “Russophobic minority” that wants to “sever Russia’s relations with the West”.

He claimed that Ukraine is trying to “subvert” the Minsk process by saying it will hold local elections “only if there is not a single violation of a complete, unconditional ceasefire for three months”.

“This is simply unrealistic. There will certainly be someone, maybe on the Ukrainian side, that will shoot somewhere a couple of times, and they will suggest starting a new count of these three months”, he said.

The EU diplomat described Lavrov’s remarks as “the old Russian song that they keep singing: 'We have nothing to do with the conflict, we are just mediators, we never set foot in Ukraine and so on'.”

He said Russia is trying to “turn Minsk on its head” by saying that Ukraine holds the local elections before it cedes control of occupied regions.

Speaking to the RFE/RFL news agency in Prague on Thursday, Dan Fried, the US diplomat in charge of coordinating EU-US sanctions policy, said: “I think, without the sanctions, the Russians would have gone much further … [they] might have attacked Mariupol [in east Ukraine], they might have driven a so-called land bridge to Crimea."

"The second thing sanctions achieved was to provide the conditions for getting a framework, the Minsk accords, to end the conflict”, he added.

"This was a good statement," Freid said on Juncker’s speech on Minsk compliance.

Renzi and Juncker send 'poor message' on Russia

Presence of Italian PM, EU Commission head and dozens of European CEOs at business forum in Russia despite US warning shows Western blockade is dissolving, Russian media said.

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