No au­to­matic re­newal of Rus­sia's eco­nomic sanc­tions, says Italy and Hun­gary

The Pak Banker - - MARKETS/SPORTS -

Italy and Hun­gary, two of the Krem­lin's clos­est al­lies in Europe, said there could be no au­to­matic ex­ten­sion of the Euro­pean Union's sanc­tions against Rus­sia, the most pub­lic sign yet of fray­ing unity on how to deal with Moscow.

Two years af­ter the West im­posed eco­nomic sanc­tions over Rus­sia's an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and its sup­port for sep­a­ratists in east­ern Ukraine, the EU's re­solve is at risk of ebbing be­cause of the stalled Minsk peace process, di­plo­mats say.

While EU gov­ern­ments last week ex­tended as­set freezes and travel bans on Rus­sians and Rus­sian com­pa­nies, there is less con­sen­sus on whether to pro­long more far-reach­ing sanc­tions on Rus­sia's bank­ing, de­fense and en­ergy sec­tors from July.

"We can­not take for granted any de­ci­sion at this stage," Ital­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Paolo Gen­tiloni told re­porters af­ter a meet­ing with his EU peers in Brus­sels, where Rus­sia's EU pol­icy was dis­cussed for the first time in more than a year.

How­ever, EU for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini told a news con­fer­ence such de­ci­sions were never taken with­out political de­bate, while EU of­fi­cials said Mon­day's de­bate among min­is­ters was mea­sured.

Some EU mem­ber states, such as Bri­tain, the Baltic re­publics and Poland, ar­gue that sanc­tions re­main a nec­es­sary re­sponse to what they see as an ex­pan­sion­ist Rus­sia. Hun­gary, Italy and Greece stress its im­por­tance as a trade part­ner, a sup­plier of en­ergy and a ma­jor player in at­tempts to end war in Syria.

"You can­not de­cide on sanc­tions by sweep­ing the is­sues un­der the car­pet," Hun­gary's for­eign min­is­ter, Peter Sz­i­j­jarto, said. "We be­lieve that the ques­tion of sanc­tions should be de­cided at the high­est level. It can­not be au­to­matic," he said.

But Lithua­nia's for­eign min­is­ter, Linas Linke­vi­cius, whose coun­try was part of the Soviet Union un­til 1990, told Reuters that, fol­low­ing the de­bate among min­is­ters on Mon­day, "there is no re­vi­sion of pol­icy".

Echo­ing that, Poland's For­eign Min­is­ter Wi­told Waszczykowski said that "the view is neg­a­tive as re­gards the in­ter­nal sit­u­a­tion in Rus­sia and its for­eign pol­icy".

Tellingly, af­ter a long dis­cus­sion, sanc­tions were not dis­cussed by for­eign min­is­ters, partly be­cause the de­bate was chaired by Mogherini to avoid ex­ac­er­bat­ing the divi­sions. In­stead, EU of­fi­cials - who help mar­shal the bloc's for­eign pol­icy - sought to gauge the mood.

One of the big­gest points of con­tention was whether Mogherini, an Ital­ian, should visit Rus­sia at a time when the EU is de­mand­ing that Rus­sia re­lease Ukrainian pi­lot Nadezhda Savchenko, who is on a hunger strike, on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds.

Waszczykowski said he sug­gested to min­is­ters that Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov first come to Brus­sels.

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