France opposes revision of EU sanctions on Russia

On June 6, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated his country opposes any revision of the sanctions EU adopted in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war it has waged against Ukraine in Donbass. His comments have been made in relation to Italy's new government's stated desire to promote "openness towards Russia" as well as a review of the current sanctions regime.

The position expressed by the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is not unique, as similar tendencies have been voiced in the past by the Prime Ministers of Slovakia, and Hungary, on 26 August 2016 and 2 February 2017, respectively. During Mr Putin's recent visit to Austria, equivalent calls could be heard from Vienna. Although these are still far from indicating an abrupt end of the sanctions system, they nevertheless depict a trend of growing opposition towards their extension. This is happening because of the pressure exercised by the businesses which have a narrow, profit-oriented interest in maintaining a good relationship with Russia. Further, this growing trend is the result of nationalist parties scoring well in elections around Europe, and it seems that for ideological reasons they tend to regard Mr Putin's regime in a more-or-less positive light. Also for ideological reasons they seem to disregard the fact that by approving Putin's revisionist use of force in Ukraine they justify an approach in international politics that other actors, even within the EU, might sooner or later be tempted to replicate. 

Jean-Yves Le Drian's precise statement was the Paris would be willing to discuss the lifting of sanctions once progress has been made on ending the Ukrainian conflict. This, of course, could be interpreted as an incentive for Mr Putin to work towards that goal in the hope that sanction relief could advance in a parallel manner. However, even if an agreement is reached for the situation in Donbass, the issue of (some) sanctions, as well as that of EU's relations with Russia will ultimately boil to the question of Crimea, which Russia has annexed from Ukraine by military force, and regards as its own on the basis of a mock referendum it has subsequently organized in the presence of the Russian army. 

About author: Mihai Turcanu

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