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30/01 – New sanctions on Russia cause division among EU member states

Today’s European press provides wide coverage of the debate about further economic sanctions against the Kremlin, which is currently dividing the EU member states. “EU divisions foil pact on added Russia sanctions”, reads the FT.

Several media – including the British newspaper and Libération – say that the EU28 Foreign Ministers held an emergency meeting yesterday in Brussels to determine how to respond to the collapse of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, fearing that this weekend’s bombardment of the port city of Mariupol marked a dramatic escalation of the fighting. However, diplomats in Brussels said it was ever more difficult to preserve a united front among the euro area countries, partly because of the recent election of a leftwing government in Greece, which has vowed to act as a bridge between Europe and Russia, further says the FT.

The INYT reports however that, Greece backed away from strong statements denouncing sanctions and joined other countries of the EU28 in a unanimous vote in favor of expanding a list of sanctioned individuals and of work to prepare “any further action” to pressure combatants to respect a stillborn peace deal from last year. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias insisted that Greece was not the “bad boy of Europe”, but that it would continue to voice objections if it had them, says Kathimerini.

Libération’s Marc Sémo reports that Mr Kotzias intends to “prevent a divide” between the EU and Russia. The French journalist also quotes the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Harlem Désir, who stated that “we will strengthen sanctions against separatists and people who support them, including Russia”. Mr Sémo further reports on Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann’s statement who expressed doubts about additional new sanctions, and said yesterday that “priority should be [given to] the establishment of a sustained dialogue.”

Ethnos newspaper comments that Mr Kotzias appeared to be satisfied with the fact that no new sanctions were decided against Russia. EU HRVP Mogherini referred to Mr Kotzias, saying that his stance was very constructive and committed to maintaining the unity of the EU, adds Greek media. Le Monde says that the UK, Poland and the Baltic countries ask for a severe condemnation of Russia and that Germany opposes new restrictive measures. Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard states that the prolonging of the sanctions is a strong signal to Russia, says Politiken.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius asked how many more people have to die before everybody supports Ukraine, adding that while unity is important, decency is more so, say Estonian media. After a long and stormy meeting, the EU’s foreign ministers agreed to extend the sanctions against Russia for six more months, writes Annika Ström Melin in an article in Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter. Italian media say that the EU urged Russia to use its influence on separatists to stabilise the Ukrainian crisis and avoiding a “constant and increasing support” to their troops.

Gazeta Wyborcza reports that although united, the EU member states are not very eager to significantly extend the economic sanctions because the document endorsed yesterday does not differ too much from a draft document already negotiated in Brussels. “Putin is aware of the EU’s strategic disarray” said Thomas Gomart, expert in Russian affairs working at the French Institute of International Relations, as quoted in the French daily. The WSJE recalls German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s declarations, underlining that “it is our joint responsibility to preserve the unity of Europe despite different sensitivities and priorities in the choice of instruments”.

Meanwhile, La Libre Belgique reports that the European foreign affairs ministers asked Ms Mogherini to “double her efforts to improve strategic communication in support of the policies of the EU.” They want to respond to what they consider “Russian disinformation activities.” Ms Mogherini stated that European leaders would have a final say on how to interpret “appropriate action” against Moscow at a summit on February 12, says the FT.

The European Vice-President also stated that she is glad the EU maintained its unity and that the EU showed it is ready for new measures, reports Helsingin Sanomat. Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten says that the European Foreign Ministers have asked the European Commission to also prepare new sanctions in case of the Ukrainian crisis does not improve before the EU summit in two weeks. EU’s foreign affairs ministers will decide on the extended list of sanctioned people on 9 February, note several media.

Among other news on Ukraine, Czech TV channel ČT24 reports on yesterday’s meeting of the prime ministers from Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria, at which they decided to coordinate their position regarding anti-Russian sanctions. The PMs agreed that they preferred peace talks rather than restriction of the sanctions.

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