EU will stand strong on Russian sanctions

“Everyone is talking to Putin,” Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said Thursday in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to him daily, Stubb said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to him a few times a week.

“We’re all engaged in phone diplomacy,” Stubb said. “It’s not like the olden days where countries in conflict went mute.”

Still, European Union leaders at the World Economic Forum said they saw no reason to weaken sanctions when they come under review in March. They said the EU would stand behind the sanctions until Russia abides by the Minsk Protocol, a peace deal struck in September with Russia, Ukraine and EU negotiators. The deal requires Russia to withdraw its support to separatist rebels operating in eastern Ukraine and leave Crimea. Russia backed a separatist government elected in a questionable election in Ukraine’s Crimea region and on March 18 annexed the territory.

Merkel called Russia’s move to annex Crimea “a clear violation of the territorial integrity.”

“Economic sanctions can be lifted if the reasons why they were introduced are removed, but unfortunately we are not there yet,” she said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, “Every evidence indicates Russia is still interfering in eastern Ukraine.”

Rebels in July shot down a Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 298 passengers and crew, including 196 Dutch nationals, prompting international condemnation.

“Nobody can accept at this time in the 21st century in the middle of Europe that one country can take another country,” Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said Thursday.

Finland, which shares a long border with Russia and counts the country among its key trade partners, says Europe will have to wait Russia out. Finland “is very committed to the sanctions. We are fully in line with the EU,” Stubb said.

But, he says, Finland differentiates between the actions of the Russian state and government from the relationship it has with Russian businesses.”We are adamant that we don’t blame the Russian people,” he said.

Still, the sanctions have done little to harm Russia’s economy, Stubb said.

“The Russian economy has not gone down because of the sanctions,” he said. “The Russian economy is in free fall because Russia has not modernized its economy after the Cold War. Name one Russian consumer product you use.”

Nor can Europe expect Russia to conform with its political ideals, Stubb said.

“Russia will not become a liberal democracy in the near future, but even so we should not isolate Russia,” he said.


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