France wants EU leaders to discuss Russia sanctions

AFP , Monday 20 Jun 2016

France on Monday called for EU leaders to have a full discussion on the future of economic sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine, even though they are expected to be rolled over shortly.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said it was out of the question to lift the sanctions as long as Russia fails to help implement the ceasefire accords in Ukraine, which were signed in Minsk in February 2015.

At the same time, the 28-nation bloc could not simply keep renewing the sanctions automatically without proper discussion, he added, on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

"The conditions for ending the sanctions are not in place since the Minsk accords are neither respected nor implemented," Ayrault said.

"What I want is that at the next EU leaders summit (on June 28-29) ... we are not just satisfied with the automatic six-month rollover of the sanctions but that there is a real debate," he said.

That way, leaders can see if there has been any progress on resolving the conflict and what could be done to encourage a possible opening, he added.

EU officials were due to discuss the six-month sanctions rollover on Tuesday, diplomatic sources told AFP last week.

Ministers were then to formally approve the decision without debate on Friday so as to avoid it coming up at next week's leaders summit, set to be dominated by the outcome of Thursday's British EU membership referendum, they said.

Ayrault's remarks follow comments late last month by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that the European Union should consider a "step by step" relaxation of the economic sanctions if there was progress on Ukraine.

The EU imposed the economic sanctions against Russia after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014, blamed on pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions were controversial from the start, with several EU states such as Italy, Germany and Hungary lukewarm at best until the MH17 tragedy.

The EU last week rolled over for another year sanctions imposed after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The EU has also imposed a separate set of visa ban and asset freeze sanctions against individual Russian and Ukrainian figures for backing the separatist cause in early 2014. These measures run until September. 

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