French President Francois Hollande said that if any progress is reached on ending Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, it will be time to end the sanctions regime that has been one key ingredient in crippling the Russian economy (along with the plunge in world oil prices). He isn’t the only European politician who feels that the worst of Vladimir Putin’s meddling is over and is batting the idea of sanctions reduction around, the BBC reports:
Germany’s vice-chancellor has warned against further sanctions on Russia.Sigmar Gabriel – a centre-left politician like Mr Hollande – said the sanctions were aimed at making Russia negotiate to resolve the Ukraine conflict. But some “forces” in Europe and the US wanted sanctions to cripple Russia, which would “risk a conflagration”.“We want to help get the Ukraine conflict resolved, but not to push Russia onto its knees,” he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper. […]There have been calls elsewhere in the EU for an easing or lifting of the sanctions on Russia, which have hit its banks, energy industry and arms manufacturers, as well as targeting powerful figures close to Mr Putin.Politicians in Italy, Hungary and Slovakia are among those who want the sanctions eased.
The reason this is coming up again now is that the first set of EU sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea are only in force through March 15 of this year, and the second, more stringent set of measures will expire at the end of July. They can, of course, be extended, but the noises coming from various corners of the EU indicate that there are going to be obstacles to keeping the pressure on.The next event to watch, as the BBC notes, is the Russia-France-Germany-Ukraine summit in Kazakhstan scheduled for January 15. Various European leaders seem to be doing their utmost to telegraph their desires to de-escalate the situation to Putin—to show him a reasonable off-ramp, as it were. They just can’t seem to wrap their heads around Putin’s calculus and cannot seem to imagine that in fact he may still shun what to them is an obvious positive-sum solution to the crisis.