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Russia & The West
Renzi Holds EU Russia Sanctions Hostage

Italy is holding up the works on the EU renewal of Russian sanctions. Politico Europe reports:

Sanctions were set to be extended on Wednesday, but that did not happen after the Italian government instructed its ambassador to raise objections during a closed-door meeting of EU countries’ delegates, which was supposed to approve the extension without much political noise.

On Thursday, the 28 EU ambassadors met again, but the delicate topic was not put to vote for a second time as Italy signaled it wouldn’t change its position, diplomatic sources told POLITICO.[..]

[T]he silent vote […] was supposed to deliver one message, according to diplomats: The EU will keep up sanctions as long as the situation in eastern Ukraine is unchanged, but without blaming Russia publicly.

Renzi has now forced leaders to do exactly that. Italy wants Europe to take Russia’s military help in Syria into account when discussing sanctions, a source said.

There’s a great deal of speculation as to what Renzi wants. According to Politico, many think it’s just some time in the limelight. Others suspect he wants the Russian sanctions eased—or he wants to appear to want that.

Here’s what we do know: Italy’s economy is hurting, badly, and the Russian sanctions have weakened it even more—for instance, in Milan, where Russians were wont to spend their money on fashion. So at the very least, the Italians probably want their pain taken into consideration, and to see their Prime Minister raising the issue. More substantively, although it’s unlikely that the Italian government will undermine the sanctions regime entirely, officials may desire some offsets from other EU members to ease the pain, either built in to the sanctions regime overtly, or granted through other initiatives.

Either way, keep an eye on this dynamic. The Russian sanctions will continue to be in play, the Italian economy isn’t poised for a dramatic recovery, and so stories like this will likely continue to crop up.

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