Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thin hope that he might be able to peel off a few European countries and disrupt a vote to extend sanctions against his country came to nothing Monday, when the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg decided to extend the economic punishment for another six months.
Imposed last year in reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and made even tighter as a result of Russia’s provision of equipment and soldiers to support the armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russia separatists, the sanctions will run through at least the end of January 2016 unless Russia complies with the demands of the EU. The sanctions were scheduled to cease at the end of July.
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With EU finance ministers locked in increasingly desperate talks with Greece to resolve that country’s massive debt crisis, Russia has been courting the Greek government, hinting that an aid package might be on the table. If that was meant to sway Greece’s vote on Monday, it appears not to have worked.
On Monday, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic announced the decision via Twitter, noting that the lifting of sanctions would depend on Russia’s implementation of a cease-fire agreement negotiated between the rebels and the government of Ukraine, with the assistance of France, Germany and Russia.
#EU extended economic sanctions against #Russia until 31 January 2016, with a view to complete implementation of #Minsk agreements.— Maja Kocijančič (@MajaEUspox) June 22, 2015
The reaction from the Kremlin was, predictably, negative. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a Russian radio station, “Russia naturally considers these sanctions groundless and unlawful. And we have never been the initiators of the sanction measures.”
The announcement came just days after the EU voted to continue imposing sanctions on the Crimean region and the city of Sevastopol, which are now occupied by the Russian military.
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Reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry was even sharper, claiming that the region it “annexed” last year in a vote conducted under the watch of armed Russian troops is an “inalienable” part of the Russian Federation.
“These restrictions are nothing but an EU attempt to ‘punish’ the residents of the peninsula, who made a free choice in a referendum in favor of reunification with Russia. In accordance with international law, we consider any political or territorial discrimination against Crimeans and the residents of Sevastopol to be absolutely inadmissible. We remember examples from history when entire ethnic groups were punished. But we never thought that we would see this in Europe in the 21st century.
“Crimea and Sevastopol are inalienable parts of the Russian Federation. This should have long been accepted as a fact that cannot be changed with economic or political blackmail. Using the sanctions tactic against Russia is a futile effort. It is wrong to assume that it can force us to give up our national interests and our position of principle on key issues.”
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