The German and Austrian foreign ministers said that EU sanctions on Russia should be gradually phased out as the peace process progresses, abandoning previous positions that sanctions could be lifted only if the Minsk peace plan is fully implemented.
The European Union should gradually phase out sanctions imposed against Russia if there is substantial progress in the peace process, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted on Sunday (19 June) as saying.
His comments reflect divisions within Germany’s ruling right-left coalition over policy towards Russia. Steinmeier’s Social Democrats (SPD) back a more conciliatory stance towards Moscow than Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc.
Merkel has repeatedly said that sanctions imposed against Russia can only be lifted once the peace agreement to end the conflict in Ukraine is fully implemented, not only partially.
Steinmeier struck a different tone. “Sanctions are not an end in themselves. They should rather give incentives for a change in behaviour,” he told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland, a network of local newspapers.
The minister said he was in favour of lifting sanctions gradually if the Russian government showed it was doing its part in implementing the Minsk peace plan for Ukraine, adding: “An all or nothing approach, even if it sounds good, doesn’t work.”
Steinmeier rejected criticism that he was acting like an “advocate for the Kremlin”.
“We must still be able to have a joint reflection if we want to find solutions for other big conflicts,” Steinmeier added, pointing to the civil war in Syria where Russia is actively backing President Bashar al-Assad against various rebel groups.
In a separate interview published this weekend Steinmeier criticised NATO’s decision to stage military manoeuvres this month in Eastern Europe, warning that such moves could worsen
tensions with Russia.
On a separate occasion, Austria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sebastian Kurz also said yesterday that it was time for the EU to make an effort to find common ground with Russia.
“I believe that we should gradually come to a modus in which for every implementation of the Minsk Protocol, for every single step, sanctions will gradually be lifted in return,” Sebastian Kurz said in a discussion at ORF TV.
It would be a very strong signal of accommodation towards Russia, if such a modus could be agreed on in the medium term.
“I hope that this would be received appropriately.”
The European Union is due next week to extend its economic sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine for six months as it has linked sanctions relief to the full implementation of a peace plan for eastern Ukraine, which has been all but stalled for months.
On Friday (17 June), the European Union extended for a year a ban on business dealings with the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that has not been internationally recognised.
In addition, the bloc is expected this week to extend until the end of 2016 its broader economic sanctions on Russia over its role in the crisis in Ukraine.