Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

EU set to roll over Russia sanctions amid defence talks

  • EU leaders are seeking to strengthen defence. (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU leaders meeting in Brussels for a summit are set to discuss rolling over sanctions against Russia, amid broader talks on defence.

Both French president Emmanuel Macron and Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel will on Thursday (22 June) debrief other leaders over dinner on the so-called Minsk peace process on Ukraine.

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Brokered by France and Germany in 2015, the Minsk agreement has largely failed to stop the fighting in east Ukraine following the Russian-led invasion into Crimea.

One senior EU diplomat described the Macron-Merkel brief as a push to proceed with sanctions against Russia in early July. "It will be the political green light," he noted.

The talks on Minsk follow US moves earlier this week to expand Russia sanctions given Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine.

EU battle groups and defence

It also comes amid wider EU plans to allow a core group of EU states the ability to launch joint security projects.

Earlier this month, the EU commission announced it would start co-financing joint defence projects to the tune of some €1.5 billion a year.

Leaders from all 28 EU states are expected to endorse the EU defence financing and set a time line for the launch of the so-called permanent structure cooperation (Pesco).

Pesco aims to shore up defence cooperation among EU states but questions remain on how or what exactly it will do.

"None of us yet know what Pesco is going to be," said one EU senior diplomat.

Another diplomat made similar comments. "On defence, the buzz word is Pesco but it is a bit unclear what that will mean in reality," he said.

Despite the confusion, EU leaders on Thursday are expected to endorse it.

The plan then is to set the criteria and commitments with EU states. Many, if not all, are expected to join Pesco.

They'll also seek to reach an agreement on the deployment of EU battle groups.

Battle groups are rapid reaction forces of about 1,000 soldiers aimed at responding to unfolding crises abroad.

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