13th Aug 2020

EU sanctions would be 'grave mistake,' Russia says

  • France has called an emergency EU summit on 1 September to reassess relations with Russia (Photo: French presidency of the EU)

As the European Union considers imposing sanctions against Russia over its recognition of independence for Georgia's rebel regions, Moscow has said that any punitive measures would be a "grave mistake," harming the 27-nation bloc as much as Russia itself.

"First of all, I highly doubt that [sanctions] might ever happen, but hypothetically speaking, this would be to the detriment of the European Union as much, if not more, than to Russia," Russia's ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said on Thursday (28 August).

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The comment comes shortly ahead of an emergency EU summit scheduled for 1 September in order to reassess the union's ties with Moscow in the face of its actions in the South Caucasus.

France, the current EU president, has warned that "sanctions are being considered and many other means as well" - words that were quickly denounced by Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who said the idea showed the workings of a "sick imagination."

In practice, just a few countries - mainly the UK, Sweden, Poland and three Baltic EU states - are pushing for a tough line against Russia.

Even if achieved, punitive measures could be limited to no more than suspension of visa-free travel talks or postponement of negotiations on a new EU-Russia treaty, currently scheduled for 16 September, EU diplomats said.

"I can only express the wish that European leaders will be able to rise above the emotions of the day and consider seriously and without prejudice the perspectives of strategic partnership with their important partner, the Russian Federation," ambassador Chizhov told journalists in Brussels.

"We need the new agreement as much as the EU does - not less, not more," he concluded.

The French EU presidency itself will not table punitive measures, while Germany - which is heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas - also has little appetite for punishing Moscow.

"We are strongly committed to keeping open channels to Russia. We have to look at who will be hurt by sanctions, what will be the costs and benefits," one senior German official was cited as saying by the Financial Times.

German Socialist MEP Martin Schulz told Financial Times Deutschland: "[Sanctions] would play into the hands of radical elements in Moscow, who want an escalation of the conflict."

An isolated Russia?

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - widely seen as the man driving Kremlin policy - has accused Washington of playing a role in the current conflict in Georgia to benefit one of the US presidential candidates.

"The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict with the aim of making the situation more tense and creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president," Mr Putin said in a CNN interview on Thursday (28 August).

He explained that US citizens had been present in the area during hostilities, following direct orders from Washington, which also trained and supplied the Georgian army.

The White House dismissed the allegations by describing them as "not rational" and "patently false."

Another round of verbal attacks took place at the United Nations last night (28 August), with Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin accusing the US of hypocrisy. He cited the US-led invasion of Iraq and Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia, backed by major Western powers, as examples.

"I would like to ask the distinguished representative of the United States [about] weapons of mass destruction. Have you found them yet in Iraq or are you still looking for them?" Mr Churkin said, according to Reuters.

So far, no country has followed Russia in recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, although Moscow's Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said he expected a "number of countries" to do so, with Belarus suggesting it may take the step before the weekend.

Virtual integrity

Mr Chizhov referred to Georgia's territorial integrity as a "virtual concept" rather than reality, even arguing that Russia's moves are justified under the peace plan brokered two weeks ago by French leader Nicolas Sarkozy - a deal seen as too vague and too Russia-friendly.

"Let me refer to the six-point plan of Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy, which does not include a reference of territorial integrity and it's not a mistake ... it was deliberate I would say," the Russian diplomat said.

But Russia has failed to win backing from its allies within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, comprising China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, whose leaders limited themselves to supporting Russia's "active role in promoting peace" in the post-conflict phase.

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