EU countries are far from united in their approach to relations with Russia
This article originally appeared at Snob. Translated for RI by Alexei Shestyan
Seven countries of the European Union have refused to support the extension of sanctions against Russia. According to Bloomberg, sanctions against further economic war were refused by Austria, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Slovakia. The countries mentioned, it is said “showed restraint in pursuing further economic containment as punishment for Russia's intervention in Ukraine." In February, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiadis visited Moscow, and in April the Kremlin will host the Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras. In recent weeks, European politicians have repeatedly discussed the extension of sanctions for another six months against Russia. However, some countries have opposed the measure, arguing that new sanctions could provoke the Russian leadership, therefore jeopardizing the Minsk peace agreements.
Why did the EU nations refuse to extend sanctions?
Hungary and Slovakia have refused to extend the sanctions because their economies are closely linked with Russia, states political analyst Igor Bunin. Two other countries, Italy and Cyprus also have important economic relations with Russia. Greece considers the Kremlin as a possible sponsor; Austria needs cheap Russian gas, and the position of Spain is largely connected with the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Europe has never really had a united approach. In some countries, for example Hungary and Slovakia, stable relations have formed with Russia. Earlier, before the Minsk agreements, disagreements between supporters and opponents of sanctions could not be realized in practice. But now, the countries that have always thought it would be good to continue to trade with Russia, may voice their views. Europe cherishes its unity, so the EU will look for compromises. If the Minsk Agreements will be fulfilled, then as of September the sanctions against Russia will begin to be removed. But if Russia will cross the line, and for example, extend its influence into Mariupol, Europe will toughen sanctions accordingly. Austria traditionally plays a balanced game in negotiating between East and West, and also does not like the fact that South Stream project has been scrapped . The same logic goes for Hungary and Slovakia. In Hungary a pro-Russian president is in power, and then Slovakia and Russia have traditionally had good relations. At the same time, Slovakia and others have spoke up for Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The situation in Spain, on the ther hand, is quite unique. A centre-right government is in power (People’s Party), but this year there will be elections, and a centre-left government may come to power (Podemos). The current government wants to undermine the opposing centre-left governmentwith the argument, "You lost Russia and money." (Russian investments and tourism) Cyprus for us Russians is a traditional offshore zone where Russian businessmen always invested huge capital. And Greece is in serious negotiations with the EU over its debt and wants to have Russia as an additional resource. Italy has strong economic ties with our country, and the sanctions have struck a severe blow to the Italian economy.
The President of the Institute for Strategic Assessments Alexander Konovalov, in turn believes that some EU countries opposed the sanctions because they value Russian trade. He is confident that these countries will never recognize the annexation of the Crimea. Konovalov said that the leaders of these countries should not be considered allies of Vladimir Putin. Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Studies:
These countries simply want to behave more independently, and not be dictated to by the US. For the prominent manufacturers of agricultural products, this country is an important export market, and therefore sanctions against Russia conflict with their (business) interests. If they refuse to impose new sanctions, it is unlikely to spoil their relations with the US and the rest of Europe. But at the same time you probably cannot say that these countries will become allies of Russia, for they will never recognize the annexation of the Crimea and do not agree with Russia providing heavy weapons to the Donbass (autonomous Republics).