A visit to Russia next month by the head of the European Union’s executive branch, Jean-Claude Juncker, is not inconsistent with the bloc’s sanctions policy towards Moscow over its role in the conflict in Ukraine, a spokesman said today (30 May).
Juncker will attend Russia’s Davos-style St Petersburg forum in June, his first visit to Russia as Europe’s chief executive, at a time when the 28-nation EU will be deciding whether to keep economic sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine.
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a briefing today that the EU was sticking to its sanctions policy vis-à-vis Russia and that the restrictions would only be lifted once Moscow delivers on its commitments in the so-called Minsk peace agreements for Ukraine.
Schinas declined to say whether Juncker would hold a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The EU first introduced sanctions on Russia after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Kyiv in March 2014 and increased them over the Kremlin’s backing for pro-Russian rebels fighting Kyiv troops in east Ukraine.
But now Germany acknowledges that it would be difficult to renew the sanctions, when they expire at the end of July. The statements by Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD chairman and German Vice-Chancellor, who warned that isolating Russia will achieve little, have angered Ukraine.
Last October, Juncker said the EU must improve its relationship with Russia, and should not let this be something decided by Washington.
In November 2015, Juncker wrote to Putin, suggesting closer trade ties between the EU and the Russian-led Eurasian Union once a ceasefire is implemented in Ukraine.
Russia is keen on establishing relations between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union it is trying to build. Such integration, according to Moscow, will help the EU to remain relevant in the not-so-distant future.
The same idea was developed in an article by Putin in Kathimerini published last Thursday (26 May), just before he arrived on an official visit to Greece.
Putin’s visit to Greece was an attempt to reinforce a relationship with one of the EU members at a time when most of the Union considers that Russia must pay the price for the illegal annexation of Crimea and for the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine.