EU to review Russia sanctions though earliest relaxation seen mid-March

By bne IntelliNews October 28, 2014

bne -


The EU will review the sanctions imposed on Russia over its aggression in Ukraine on October 28, without any change to the sanctions regime expected. 

Italy, which is currently president of the Council of the EU, tried to accelerate the process of reviewing the sanctions, but the proposal was blocked. The traditional winter Russia-EU summit has also been cancelled.

The earliest date for a relaxation of sanctions will be in mid-March, according to EU sources quoted by Russian business daily Kommersant

The EU introduced a first packet of sanctions against Russia on March 17, following a successful referendum in Ukraine's Crimea on joining Russia. Since then, a total of nine sanctions packets have hit 199 individuals and 23 companies, with sectoral sanctions placed on Russia's energy, financial and defence sectors. 

With the situation in Ukraine now stabilised to a degree, there is greater readiness to consider revising sanctions, according to Kommersant sources, with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently naming three conditions for this in an interview in Germany's Die Zeit: evacuation of heavy weapons and armed formations from the buffer zones between conflicting parties in Donbass; securing the Russian-Ukraine border; and not recognizing regional elections planned by the separatists for early November. 

Even if these steps are taken, revising the sanctions before their expiry date of one year would require agreement from all members of the EU, which is unlikely.

However, the first package of sanctions passed on March 17, which was renewed and extended on September 17 until March 2015, was the basis for almost all subsequent sanctions, which were amendments to this first sanctions package. So extending their term past March would also require unanimous voting by EU members, which is equally unlikely to happen. 

"If the situation in Ukraine remains stable, a number of EU countries will not want to prolong sanctions against Russia to their full extent and will demand their softening," said a Kommersant source in the EU. In particular, many EU members are unhappy with the last, toughest round of sanctions of September 12, which were implemented after a peace deal had been reached in East Ukraine, and these may be the first candidates for revision.

According to Kommersant, a number of EU countries at the time wanted publication of the September sanctions - comprising swingeing sectoral sanctions on Russian oil, defence and financial sector - to be delayed, and were angry when the European Commission went ahead and published them. Finland even wrote a protest note to the European Commission for this reason, according to Kommersant.

"Finland, Austria, Italy, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Greece, Cyprus and Luxemburg will vote against the extension of sanctions," said a European diplomatic source quoted by Kommersant. "The sanctions resulting from the Crimean annexation will remain, but the others will be diluted or cancelled, if the situation in Ukraine does not escalate again," the source said. 

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