With tensions between Russia and Ukraine flaring around Crimea this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel set down a marker: European sanctions on Russia would stay in place come January, she said, as she had seen little evidence that Russia has made any efforts at the implementation of the Minsk ceasefire.
Of course, the extension of sanctions is widely expected to be a hotly contested issue in Brussels, and it was only a matter of time before a chorus of dissenting voices began to rise across the continent. The latest is Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday. Reuters:
Fico said: “Personally, I think it is time to view the sanctions rationally and to say that they harm both the EU and Russia.”
“They have brought absolutely nothing to (solving) the sensitive questions which they were supposed to influence. We agreed with Vladimir Putin that our common pursuit is to revive our mutual trade again,” Fico said in the comment which appeared on his Facebook page along with a photo of his Thursday meeting with Putin.
Fico echoed last week’s remarks by Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who also called for a rethink of the sanctions, saying that they were the equivalent of “shooting oneself in the foot”.
While many observers nervously monitor the volatile situation on Ukraine’s borders for signs of open war breaking out, it’s important to remember that Putin has the sanctions fight very much in mind as he sends troops to Crimea and just over the border of Ukraine’s restive east. One might have hoped that Russia threatening aggression would prompt European leaders to come together and resolve to push back, but that’s not what happened. Instead, Putin’s threat of violence is triggering the old appeasement reflex across European capitals.