France, Germany concerned about Russia sanctions policy

Ak Orda Presidential Palace. Astana, 2012. [Ninara]

France and Germany suggested Monday (5 January) that Western sanctioning Russia had reached its limits and could only make things worse. The statements were made ahead of a four-way summit on the Ukraine crisis in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on 15 January.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on 22 December he had invited the leaders of Russia, France and Germany to talks in an attempt to restore peace to Kyiv’s eastern territories.

But, asked about the planned summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said, “I can’t say yet if and when such a meeting will take place. Such a meeting only makes sense if we can make real progress.”

“We have a very clear idea of what constitutes real progress. This would be first and foremost achieving the full implementation of the Minsk peace accord and a genuine and lasting ceasefire, a contact line between areas controlled by Ukraine and rebels, and a withdrawal of heavy weaponry. Such things must be prepared in advance,” he said.

In an interview with France Inter radio, French President François Hollande struck a more optimistic note: “I will go to Astana on 15 January on one condition, which is that there should be a possibility of making new progress. If it’s just to meet and talk without making any actual advances then there’s no point. But I think there will be progress.”

Openings to Russia?

Hollande also said the West should stop threatening Russia with new sanctions and instead offer to ease off on existing restrictions in exchange for progress in the peace process in Ukraine.

“I’m not for the policy of attaining goals by making things worse,” Hollande said, adding “I think that sanctions must stop now.”

Russia’s position is misunderstood, he suggested. “Mr. Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine, I am sure – he told me so,” Hollande said. “What he wants is to remain influential. What Mr. Putin wants is that Ukraine not become a member of NATO. The idea of Mr. Putin is to not have an army at Russia’s borders.”

Germany’s deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel too warned against destabilising Russia through too severe sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. He said an unstable Russia would pose a danger to all of Europe.

Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag that it was not in Germany’s or Europe’s interest to bring about a Russian collapse.

“The goal was never to push Russia politically and economically into chaos,” Gabriel said in an interview.

“Whoever wants that will provoke a much more dangerous situation for all of us in Europe,” he said, adding that the aim of the sanctions so far was to bring Russia back into negotiations.

“We want to help solve the conflict in Ukraine, not to force Russia to its knees ,” he said.

Top-ranking diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France have meet in Berlin yesterday, and their foreign ministers held a telephone conference on Friday.

Merkel is due to meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk in Berlin on 8 February, and the German and Ukrainian finance ministers are also due to hold talks that day.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU's resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.

On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.

>> Read: Poroshenko says Russia invaded Ukraine

A truce was agreed on 5 September, but the situation has remained volatile.

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