France and Germany want to ease European Union sanctions on Russia, after it has repeatedly refused to comply with treaty obligations it made at the second Minsk conference in February 2015.
The Minsk treaty calls for a complete battlefield ceasefire, admittance of international monitors, and Russian restoration of Ukraine’s former border. None of these conditions have been met in the 16 months since Russia, Ukraine, and Pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine agreed to the treaty.
The European Union has agreed to extend the sanctions for another six months, but the support of Italy and France in the next round of sanctions extension are tenuous.
“Discussion along with the renewing of sanctions and that should focus on what do we do if there is progress,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told The Wall Street Journal. Ayrault elaborated that easing sanctions would be seen as a positive sign by Russia encouraging gradual compliance with the treaty.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier concurred with Ayrault’s thinking, saying sanctions relief should be focused not on full Russian compliance but on enticing the Kremlin to comply with the treaty it already agreed to.
Many Eastern European nations, along with the United Kingdom, have urged full sanctions against Russia until it fully complies with the Minsk agreements. “The message to Russia has to be if you want the sanctions relaxed, deliver your commitment at Minsk. Not some of them or moving towards,” said UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond told reporters. Hammond elaborated, “They have had plenty of time to do it.”
Eastern European nations are particularly concerned with Russian restoration of the Ukrainian border. Many Eastern European nations fear a Russian incursion on their own borders, and see any European leniency as a further invitation of Russian aggression.
Hammond believes Russia is actively courting Germany and France to push for sanctions relief, while continuing to obstinately defy its treaty obligations in Ukraine. “The Russians are playing a game, frankly a game of divide and rule, targeting those who are temperamentally inclined to talk about relaxation, pressuring them. It is a big mistake,” he warned.
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