Renewed violence in Eastern Ukraine is making life hard for the European governments that have been looking for any excuse to drop their sanctions on Russia. The Washington Post reports on the recent outbreak of fighting:
Intensifying battles, mounting death tolls and dire new warnings from Russia have dragged eastern Ukraine’s long-running conflict into some of the worst fighting since last summer, rendering a months-old cease-fire agreement effectively defunct.Government troops and pro-Russia separatists have been trading heavy fire at the Donetsk airport, a prize that, though more symbolic than strategic, has been the epicenter of punishing recent attacks that have reduced much of the airport to rubble. Each side has claimed to have wrested control of the airport at various points, but militia and army fighters continued to launch strikes against each other throughout the weekend and into Monday.
The AP describes the European reaction:
The European Union’s foreign ministers on Monday ruled out any easing of sanctions against Russia as long as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine, despite concerns about the economic consequences.EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said the 28 ministers decided that the EU “will stay the course.” Denying any fraying of a common stand in the face of Moscow, she said: “We are united on this.”
Mogherini’s statement is admirable, but it is also untrue; Europe is far from united.The German leadership seems increasingly resolved to keep Putin’s feet to the fire (much to the chagrin of the German business community, which has opposed the sanctions from the very beginning), and Poland continues to be the biggest cheerleader for standing up to Russian territorial aggression. Lithuania, too, is strongly in favor of the sanctions.Meanwhile in France, President Francois Hollande recently announced his hopes of letting the two rounds of sanctions expire when they automatically come up for renewal in March and July, respectively. Italy has always been even less keen than France to take an economic hit in order to help Ukraine. And Hungary and Slovakia have also pushed for dropping the sanctions. In fact, only a few days ago, Mogherini himself was circulating a paper advocating that the sanctions be dropped if there was any progress towards peace. As we predicted, though, the Kremlin once again decided not to take one of Europe’s “offramps” by turning down the temperature in Eastern Ukraine. Sanctions or no, Putin’s got other plans.