Thursday, June 2, 2016

EU Softening Stance Towards Russia: 'Diplomatic Breakthrough' - Will This Leave The U.S. Isolated?

Sooner or later the EU had to take a more pragmatic approach towards Russia and the so-called sanctions haven't served to benefit anyone. In what looks like a breakthrough indeed, it looks like the EU may be departing from the U.S. policy of attempting to punish and isolate Russia. If this trend continues, the U.S. will be the ones isolated in the ongoing efforts to demonize Russia:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has agreed to attend an event in Russia in June, a Commission spokeswoman announced on May 30, in a move that may stir debate on the EU's fraught relations with Moscow. «President Juncker has been invited and plans to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on 16 June», the spokeswoman stated. «He will use this opportunity to convey to the Russian leadership as well as to a wider audience the EU's perspective regarding the current state of EU-Russia relations», she added.

The annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum will be held on June 16-18. This year’s topic is «Capitalizing on the New Global Economic Reality». 

The annual event brings together politicians, business leaders and think tankers. This time Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, Greece’s Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, former French Foreign Minister Hubert VĂ©drine and Europe’s former Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson are on the guest list. Major US investors will take part in the forum.

According to our information, the leading investors will attend the Russian forum. American companies will be among them. The policy of ignoring the forum has failed. Interested companies, in any case, will attend and no one will hinder them», said Russian Embassy in Washington spokesman Grigory Zasypkin.

Several countries – including the UK and the US as well as some Baltic and Central European nations – have privately expressed unease that Juncker’s participation in the event would bolster the Russian position at a decisive moment of the sanctions debate.

Those who oppose the anti-Russian sanctions point out that they have proven politically ineffective and economically harmful for both Russia and European countries.

Some EU countries, including France and Italy, have pushed for more engagement with Moscow and even called for the lifting of the punitive measures.

For instance, France’s Senate will debate a draft resolution calling for the easing and gradual lifting of anti-Russia sanctions on June 8. The authors of the resolution also stressed that the policy of sanctions is no longer viable. The French Senators called for the immediate lifting of personal sanctions imposed against Russian MPs and stressed that Moscow remains a strategic partner both for France and Europe. The draft resolution has already been supported by the body’s Committee on European Affairs. «Deteriorating relations between Russia and the EU are only causing regret. We believe that gradual easing of sanctions imposed against Russia is necessary, particularly in the field of economy», said Yves Pozzo di Borgo and Simon Sutour, the two senators who introduced the draft resolution.

On April 28, a similar resolution was passed by the French Assembly, which is the lower house of the French Parliament.
On May 19, a council in Italy’s northeastern Veneto region has adopted a resolution recognizing Crimea as part of Russia and urging the Italian government and the EU to lift sanctions.
On May 25, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Budapest is set to stand against the automatic extension of sanctions imposed on Moscow by the European Union, after he met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Hungary’s capital
«We are aware that resistance in the EU to extending the sanctions towards Russia has increased», said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
According to the latest estimates by the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce (AHK), two-thirds of the 134 German companies working in Russia said they have suffered from the sanctions. 

Unnamed diplomatic sources told American magazine Politico, the US fear Juncker’s visit would strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position before a crucial decision on renewing the restrictive measures.

EU member states recognize that the sanctions in question are a divisive issue. The upcoming visit of Jean-Claude Juncker shows that the existing unity is fragile. Russia’s economy is on the way to full recovery and European companies will miss out on taking advantage.

Russia can buy most goods produced in the EU from elsewhere. There is a growing realization in Europe that sanctions have failed and reality dictates different approaches. The decision of the President of the European Commission to visit Russia before the EU summit (June 28-29) proves this fact. No doubt his presence at the forum will be a major breakthrough in the Russia-EU relationship.

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