source: Greece delays EU agreement on Russia sanctions | World news | The GuardianThe new Greek government has picked its first fight with the European Union, delaying agreement on further EU sanctions against Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.
The move raised European and Nato fears that Moscow might seek to exploit the hard left and extreme right coalition under Alexis Tsipras as a Trojan horse within the key western alliances.
An emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers was convened in Brussels to respond to the upsurge in violence in eastern Ukraine, notably last week’s shelling of the town of Mariupol by pro-Russian secessionists which left 30 civilians dead and 100 wounded.
On Thursday evening the ministers agreed to prolong the blacklisting of pro-Russian separatist leaders from March until September, to add new names to the blacklist by next week, and asked the European commission to look into broadening the economic and financial sanctions against Russia imposed last July.
Before the foreign ministers’ meeting, the 28 EU ambassadors in Brussels met to draft the decisions to be discussed by the ministers. The Greek ambassador refused to agree to the key passage on sanctions – prolonging the blacklisting of 132 individuals and 28 “entities”, mainly in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Diplomats said the Greek representative told the meeting that he could not take a position until his minister arrived in Brussels. “One delegation has a general reserve on the text,” the ambassadors stated in the final draft of the document.
Although several other countries are lukewarm about renewing or extending sanctions against Moscow or the Russian separatists, diplomats said there were no other dissenters on the statement, which squarely held Russia to blame for facilitating the Mariupol attack.
The meeting “notes evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia’s responsibility,” the statement said.
While falling short of proposing new sanctions on Russia, the statement told the European commission to prepare new “appropriate action”. Diplomats said that meant broader financial and economic penalties against Moscow than those imposed last July and which need to be renewed by this July. Britain is pushing for stronger sanctions against Moscow.
Nikos Kotzias, the new Greek foreign minister, said Greece wanted to “prevent a rift” between Russia and the EU, although both sides have been in acute conflict for the past 10 months over Moscow’s assault on Ukraine. Kotzias was later quoted by Reuters as telling the meeting: “We are not against every sanction. We are in the mainstream, we are not the bad boys.”
Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy coordinator chairing the meeting, said the decision to augment the sanctions was unanimous. She said Kotzias was “taking his own position which was changing in the days”.
A confrontation is looming after Tsipras’s triumph in the Greek elections on Sunday declared an end to Europe-imposed austerity. On Thursday the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, a German social democrat, went to Athens for the first direct contact between Tsipras and a senior EU figure.
They talked for several hours, and Schulz looked pale and sombre afterwards. He said they were in dispute, but said he was confident there would be no unilateral moves by the Tsipras government to default on Greece’s debt or abrogate the terms of its bailout agreements with the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Schulz described Sunday’s election in Greece as “an extraordinary turning point”.
Tsipras said he was launching a war on Greece’s oligarchs and on tax evasion by the wealthy. He predicted that the negotiations with the EU over Greece’s debt burden would be long and difficult.
While the financial dispute is by far the biggest issue in the fallout from the Greek election, diplomats and officials in Brussels are surprised that the new Athens team chose to pick a fight over Russia and Ukraine. The Greeks, like the Greek Cypriots, are broadly pro-Russian but have not previously threatened to veto EU action.
The foreign ministers’ statement on Thursday is not conclusive, but goes to a summit of EU leader in Brussels in two weeks, Tsipras’s debut on the EU stage. It remains to be seen whether he will use his first appearance at an EU summit to veto an agreement between 28 countries.
Officials speculated that Tsipras was using the Russia issue as a bargaining chip in the bigger fight over debt relief. If so, the gambit would go down badly as a crude blackmail attempt.
With violence surging in eastern Ukraine and EU-Russia relations getting ever chillier, Moscow threatened to quit the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights body which has nothing to do with the EU, after the council’s parliamentary assembly, grouping MPs from the member states, voted narrowly to strip Russia of its voting rights.
Theres already people worrying about the stability of your government amongst other things. If you're the new kid to the block, don't go making waves by disagreeing with what everyone else wants. Russia needs to be put back in their place before they do something stupid and start World War 3.