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4th Mar 2024

Merkel: EU strategy is to maintain Russia sanctions

  • Merkel: 'The measure for lifting sanctions will be territorial integrity' (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Germany has warned the EU will not roll back Russia sanctions unless Vladimir Putin makes major concessions, in Europe’s first “strategic” talks on the crisis.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told press at an EU summit on Thursday (18 December) that each batch of sanctions was imposed for specific reasons and can be lifted only if the reasons are no longer there.

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"We decided tonight that the measure for lifting sanctions will be [the] territorial integrity [of Ukraine],” she said.

The chancellor, who spoke to her Russian counterpart by phone on Wednesday, noted that he has made many promises.

But she said Russia continues to flout the so-called Minsk peace agreement and all she can do is “hope” that a recent ceasefire will hold.

“We want to see them [Putin’s promises] implemented”.

British leader David Cameron sent out a similar message, saying: “We should keep those sanctions in place until Russia changes its behaviour and stops the aggression in Ukraine”.

With the sanctions and low oil prices biting, he added the Russian economy is in a “serious” state, but "the door is always open to Russia if it changes its behaviour”.

French leader Francois Hollande was softer.

He said the time is not right for France to resume arms sales to Russia by delivering the first of two contracted warships.

But he noted there is “no need for new sanctions” and said “progress” on the ceasefire means there is a chance to “exit from the crisis”.

The EU in March blacklisted Russian officials over the annexation of Crimea and in July targeted Russian banks and energy firms over its covert war in east Ukraine. It added more Crimea restrictions on Thursday.

But the sanctions expire next year unless all 28 EU states agree to extend them.

Polish former prime minister Donald Tusk, who now chairs EU summits, had asked leaders to take stock of the crisis over dinner.

Merkel said the “strategic discussion” looked at “what we thought had been overcome in 1990 [the end of the Soviet Union] - that countries should determine their own future and not be pulled in spheres of influence”.

Tusk said: “I was really moved tonight because our discussion at the dinner showed the European Union is united as never before on this question”.

He said the EU can help Ukraine overcome its economic problems.

But he described Russia as a long-term “strategic challenge” that requires “practical and pragmatic” counter-measures, which are free of “ideology”.

Tusk briefed media alongside European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Italian PM Matteo Renzi, marking the end of the Italian EU presidency.

Russia hawks have criticised EU institutions and Italy for being too friendly to Russia over the past 10 months.

But both men used forceful words to describe Russia’s actions on the EU’s eastern borders.

Juncker said he “cannot condemn strongly enough” Russia’s “flagrant violations” of international norms.

Renzi acknowledged that Russian troops are in Ukraine, adding: “We must absolutely work with Russia to push Russia out of Ukraine and to come back to international tables for discussions”.

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