Saturday

26th May 2018

'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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

Analysis

EU has no 'magic bullet' against US Iran sanctions

EU leaders in Sofia will discuss how they can protect the bloc's economic interests against US threats to sanction companies doing business in Iran. But their options are limited.

Opinion

Ratifying CETA after 'Achmea scandal' is anti-European

While few people in Europe have heard of the 'Achmea' ruling, the case will have far-reaching consequences. Member states must understand the implications of the case quickly - especially those considering ratifying the EU-Canada trade agreement.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations