Saturday

25th Nov 2017

'At least five' EU states going soft on Russia, US says

  • Biden: "I've never seen Europe in as much self-doubt in my career" (Photo: state.gov)

US vice-president Joe Biden has said “at least” five EU states are prepared to relax sanctions on Russia, while urging Ukraine to accelerate reforms.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in New York, on Wednesday (21 September), Biden said Ukraine was right to feel “nervous” about the future of the EU sanctions regime.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“If they [Ukraine] give an excuse to the EU there are at least five countries right now that want to say: ‘Whoa, we want out [of the sanctions]’,” he said.

He said “there’s an overwhelming instinct in Europe to say: ‘Hey, before you guys [Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko] became president, this was owned by Russia anyway. They had a puppet there. What difference does it make?’.”

He also said “I’ve never seen Europe in as much self-doubt in my career … because of migration, because of Brexit”.

In an insight into US diplomacy, Biden said he had spent “two to three hours a week” on the phone with Ukraine’s leaders in recent years urging them to step up reforms.

He said he had told Poroshenko that unless he fired his former chief prosecutor, who was suspected of corruption, the US would hold back aid: “I said: ‘I’m not signing it. Until you fire him, we’re not signing’.”

Biden said he had targeted France, Germany, and Italy on keeping EU sanctions.

He said German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande had previously been “stalwart”, but that Merkel is “now in a different position”.

He said Russia did not want to invade Ukraine, but "to totally destabilise the government, bring it down, and as a result get everything they had before and Europe going: ‘Well, that was too bad’.”

Biden’s reference to Merkel being in a “different position” comes amid the chancellor’s falling popularity in the refugee crisis.

The centre-left SPD party has also called for better Russia relations in its campaign for next year’s German elections.

That policy was on show on Wednesday when the SPD leader, German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, met Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Phasing out?

“I’m doing what I can so that the sanctions, imposed after the annexation of Crimea, can be lifted step-by-step, and in the same measure as there is tangible progress in implementing the Minsk agreement," Gabriel said.

A Merkel spokesman, Juergen Hardt, retorted that her CDU party “cannot understand the remarks by minister Gabriel on the sanctions against Russia being phased out”.

"We strongly support the view of the G7 countries - that a lifting of the sanctions is coupled with the full implementation of the Minsk agreement”, Hardt said.

The G7 club of wealthy states includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US.

The Minsk accord is a ceasefire deal that obliges “foreign”, meaning Russian, forces to pull out of east Ukraine in return for Ukraine devolving power to the war-torn regions.

But Ukraine’s Poroshenko, in a speech at the UN assembly in New York on Wednesday, said he cannot hold local elections in the war zone, as per Minsk, unless Russia first leaves.

“We are constantly facing resistance by the Kremlin and its proxies who are doing their best to delay the peace process and shift responsibility for their own destructive action onto Ukraine”, he said.

EU sanctions

The EU has three packets of sanctions: economic measures against Russian banks and energy firms, a blacklist of Russians and Ukrainians, and a ban on doing business with Russia-annexed Crimea.

The economic sanctions expire in January unless they are renewed by consensus, with EU leaders to hold talks on the subject next month.

The other two sets of measures have already been rolled over until mid-2017.

But an investigation by the Reuters news agency, published on Wednesday, showed that two EU retailers, Germany’s Metro group and France’s Auchan, have supplied goods to supermarkets in Crimea.

Reuters said this was most likely done by selling stock to Russian subsidiaries, who then sold it to Crimea - a loophole in the EU regime.

The OCCRP, a club of investigative journalists from eastern Europe, two weeks ago also said EU states’ shipping lines flout the Crimea ban.

“Over the past two years, 24 vessels bearing EU countries’ flags, 43 vessels registered in the EU, and 22 vessels owned by EU beneficiaries have entered Crimea”, the OCCRP said, naming Germany, Greece, and Romania among the culprits.

EU trying to relaunch Ukraine peace process

Foreign ministers said the EU is ready to help with elections in Eastern Ukraine, while France and Germany are trying to bring back Russia to the negotiating table.

Focus

Denmark leads Ukraine anti-corruption drive

The EU has unveiled an anti-corruption scheme for Ukraine, amid concerns that its officials and lawmakers are undermining a key reform in the fight against villainy.

Column / Crude World

Why Putin's union doesn't want to work with the EU

The EU should not dismiss institutional cooperation with the Russia-led economic association. But Moscow's previous behaviour with Ukraine and Moldova shows it won't let its neighbours turn too much to the West.

Focus

Nordic soldiers advised to study French

Nordic troops ought to learn French to better contribute to UN peace missions in future, security experts and politicians have been told.

Opinion

The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik

If, as the EU claims, the Eastern Partnership summit is not a format for conflict resolution, where else will the security issues that hold the region back be resolved?

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Germany remains 'active' in EU
  2. Work with Israel, Egypt on gas exploration, says Commission
  3. Only seven EU states have 'advanced' stage climate plans
  4. EU dashes integration hopes of eastern countries
  5. EU approves joint Irish electricity scheme
  6. German president to launch 'Grand Coalition' talks
  7. Irish opposition 'threatens national interest', says minister
  8. SPD drops opposition to grand coalition in Germany

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  9. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  10. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  11. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  12. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  2. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  3. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  5. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  6. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  7. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  8. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  10. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  11. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  12. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education