Fears grow in EU that Trump is about to lift sanctions against Russia

Putin and Merkel. The German chancellor will speak to Trump tomorrow. [European Commission]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to speak with Donald Trump tomorrow (28 January), a source said today (27 January), as rumours grow that the US president will lift the sanctions against Russia imposed over its intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

The source quoted by Reuters did not say whether Trump might want to speak with Merkel about a lifting of the US sanctions imposed on Russia, as overnight reports from the United States suggested.

But the source made clear that if such a step were taken, then the European Union would not necessarily follow Washington, as its sanctions remain tied to implementation of the Minsk peace deal.

The Trump administration has prepared documents to lift sanctions against Russia, Fabrice Pothier, a researcher at Atlantic Council tweeted.

“DC sources say that Trump admin has an executive order ready to lift Russia sanctions. @POTUS to talk to Merkel and then Putin on Saturday,” Pothier wrote on his twitter account.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal this month he might do away with some penalties if Moscow proved helpful in battling Islamist militants and reaching other goals important to Washington.

That move is likely to face resistance from both influential figures in Washington and foreign leaders – Merkel among them – who argue sanctions should only be eased if Moscow complies with the West’s conditions on Ukraine.

Trump is already under intense scrutiny at home from critics who say he was elected with help from Russian intelligence — an allegation he denies — and that he is too ready to cut deals with a country that many of his own officials say is a threat to US security.

Putin and Trump will talk by phone

Putin and Trump are also expected to talk by telephone this Saturday (28 January), the Kremlin said, their first conversation since Trump took office.

Both have spoken about ending the enmity that has dragged US-Russia relations to their lowest ebb since the Cold War.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with people? Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia? I am all for it,” Trump told a news conference in July.

Putin, at a news conference in December, said he would reciprocate. “Mr Trump …. said he believes it’s right to normalise Russian-American ties and said it definitely won’t be any worse, because it couldn’t be worse. I agree with him. Together we’ll think about how to improve things.”

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko said on 24 January world powers should keep sanctions on Russia, rejecting Trump’s proposal to consider reducing the penalties if Moscow proved a useful ally.

Poroshenko told reporters that sanctions remained the only way to keep Russia at the negotiating table over the crisis in eastern Ukraine, that Western powers say has been fuelled by Moscow.

Asked about the comments on Tuesday (24 January), Poroshenko said: “We’ve enjoyed very strong bipartisan support in the United States during the last three years. We don’t see any reason to change this situation.”

“We don’t see any connection with possible progress in Middle East and the situation in Ukraine … With that situation, the only effective way is sanctions, to motivate the Russian Federation, president Putin, to be at the negotiating table,” Poroshenko added during a visit to Finland, another neighbour of Russia.

Poroshenko’s Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinisto, said he did not think the United States was changing its policy on the sanctions.

“Nevertheless, the US has put its own sanctions, and European Union has … made its own decisions,” he added.

Former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bild tweeted that if Trump unilaterally lifts the Russia sanctions, this would torpedo the Minsk agreement, and would signal that the US is willing to hand over eastern Ukraine to Russia.

At the December summit, EU leaders are reported to have discussed the unwelcome scenario of the US lifting the sanctions, which would erode unity among the member states and lead to the collapse of the EU sanctions as well, making a poor show of the Union.

Russian activist: If Putin regains Ukraine, the Baltics are next

Vladimir Putin’s strategy is to install pro-Moscow politicians in Ukraine. If Europe consents, his next stop will be the Baltic countries, with NATO incapable of defending them, which will put an end to the organisation, Ilya Yashin told EURACTIV.com in an exclusive interview.

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