Latvia tempts Russia with lifting of sanctions

Edgars Rink?vi?s [European Commission]

The European Union will consider lifting sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis only if there is “real progress” in implementing a four-month-old ceasefire deal, Latvia’s foreign minister said yesterday (12 January).

Edgars Rink?vi?s, whose country took over the EU’s rotating presidency on 1 January, held talks in Moscow before a meeting of the German, French, Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers scheduled in Berlin later on Monday (see Positions).

>> Read: Latvia claims its presidency won’t be ‘anti-Russian’

“We think the sanctions imposed over east Ukraine can be lifted when we see not only agreements signed, but real progress,” Rink?vi?s told a news conference after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“If we see real progress? The European Union will be ready to seriously consider easing or lifting the sanctions.”

He said he had heard ideas in Moscow that showed there was “potential to move forward” but that he could not rule out more EU sanctions if the ceasefire deal reached in the Belarussian capital Minsk was not implemented.

Kyiv and Moscow blame each other for the failure to implement the Minsk agreement in a conflict in which more than 4,700 people have been killed since mid-April in east Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting Ukraine’s army.

Lavrov said he believed “artificial barriers” between Russia and the EU would be lifted but did not say when he thought this might happen. Moscow, which denies arming the rebels, has imposed a retaliatory ban on food products from the Western countries.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has invited the leaders of Russia, France and Germany to talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, on Thursday to try to restore peace.

However, Germany and France have raised doubts on whether such a four-way summit can take place without further progress on the Minsk peace plan, which was agreed in September.

>> Read: France, Germany concerned about Russia sanctions policy

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Russian news agencies on Monday the Astana meeting was not in the Kremlin leader’s schedule.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that all 12 points in the Minsk protocol had to be fully implemented before the EU could consider easing sanctions against Russia.

Some of the provisions of the Minsk agreement also concern Ukraine. Its third point concerns ‘decentralisation’ in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Ukraine vents frustrations

Kostyantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, gave an interview on Sunday to the Ukrainian agency UNIAN in which he criticised EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini for making overtures to Russia.

He said that since Mogherini took over the job on 1 October, Kyiv noticed a “certain shift” of the European External Action Service toward Ukraine.

“We truly hope that she will not repeat the mistakes she made as Italy’s foreign minister when, in the wake of Russia’s audacious aggression against Ukraine, she still went to Moscow, inviting Putin to take part in the ASEM,” he said, referring to the Asia-Europe summit held in Milan on 16-17 October.

“I suppose that in the present circumstances the idea of inviting Russia to a dialogue to resolve the conflict looks like condoning the aggressor, and it is doomed to failure,” he said, with possible reference to the planned Astana summit on 15 January.

Yelisieiev also regretted that his country’s Association Agreement with the EU, which was signed on 27 June 2014, has so far been ratified only by 11 EU countries.

“This is not only a legal, but also a political matter, because the sooner the agreement is ratified and comes into force, the stronger will be the position of Ukraine in negotiations with other partners, including Russia, and the less illusions Moscow will harbor to prevent us from starting the process of implementation of the agreement’s trading part. So I hope that the large EU member states, which we expect the ratification from – these are Germany, Britain, and France – appreciate their own political responsibilities,”Yelisieiev said according to an English-version transcript by UNIAN

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today (13 January) after meeting ministers from Germany, France and Ukraine in Berlin on Monday that all had agreed that only a strict ceasefire could pave the way for the countries' leaders to meet in the Kazakh capital Astana.

"The need for strict observance of the ceasefire was underlined," Lavrov said in a statement, adding there would be another meeting of the so-called Contact Group - Russia, Ukraine, Europe's OSCE security watchdog and pro-Russian rebels - to find ways to implement the ceasefire deal.

Lavrov's comments put an end to plans for talks in Astana on Thursday, to which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had invited the Russian, French and German leaders.

"According to the ministers, this [work on implementing the deal] will allow plans for a successful summit in Astana to move forward. It was agreed that it was necessary to work more on this," Lavrov said.

Lavrov also said there was a greater understanding that all parties in Ukraine should be involved in talks about constitutional change. 

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