Friday

22nd Mar 2019

EU ministers give tacit accord to Russia sanctions

  • Steinmeier told some fellow EU ministers he had been "misinterpreted" on Nato (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

EU ambassadors are still planning to roll over Russia sanctions at a meeting on Tuesday (21 June) morning, but France wants a broader Russia debate at the EU summit.

An EU source told EUobserver the ambassadors planned to adopt the decision without any discussion at their meeting, which was due to start at 10AM local time.

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  • Ayrault called for a Russia policy debate at the EU summit (Photo: Parti Socialiste)

“We’ll see what happens in the meeting, but the expectation is that any change of strategy [on sanctions] would wait for the the next time around,” the source said, referring to the next six-month renewal that will fall due in winter.

“There’s still a consensus [for the current roll-over] … we don’t expect any hiccups”, the source said.

The ambassadors’ meeting comes after Austrian and German foreign ministers, over the weekend, said EU policy should be modified so that, in future, if Russia complies with part of the Minsk ceasefire accord on Ukraine then the EU would respond by lifting part of its economic measures.

The current model is to lift sanctions after full compliance.

German minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also caused controversy by saying that recent Nato drills in Poland had amounted to “warmongering” against Russia.

Neither of them defended their position at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, however.

Ministers briefly discussed Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic in the context of the EU’s new policy for the high north.

Steinmeier did ask for Russia to be added to the ministers’ agenda, but he used the point to mention Germany’s priorities on Ukraine in the context of its chairmanship of the OSCE, the international body monitoring the conflict, rather than to call for a new Russia policy.

He also told some fellow EU ministers in the margins of the event that he had been “misinterpreted” on Nato and that Germany’s commitment to the alliance remained firm.

He told press that it was “possible” the sanctions would be renewed on Tuesday.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said sanctions would be “automatically” rolled over before the EU summit, due next week. But he said EU leaders should hear from France and Germany, which are negotiating with Russia and Ukraine on behalf of the EU, about the state of play in the conflict.

He said there should be “a debate on substance, on content” and that Ukraine must also “do their part of the work” on Minsk compliance.

Echoing Austria and Germany on future partial lifting of the measures, he added: “If we can send a fews signs of encouragement to the ones and the others, it can be useful”.

British foreign secretary Philip Hammond was more hawkish.

“The message to Russia has to be if you want the sanctions relaxed, deliver your commitment at Minsk. Not some of them or moving towards or talking about [it], but delivery,” he told press in Luxembourg.

“The Russians are playing a game. Frankly, a game of divide and rule. Targeting those who are temperamentally inclined to talk about sanctions relaxation: pressuring them, cajoling them … Any sign of reviewing will be seen as a sign of weakness”, he said.

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