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(L to R) France’s President Francois Hollande, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a meeting on the sidelines of a Europe-Asia summit (ASEM) in Milan, Oct. 17, 2014.
Talks between Russia, Ukraine and European governments on Friday were “full of misunderstandings and disagreements,” the Kremlin said, undercutting more upbeat messages from leaders hoping for a breakthrough in the Ukraine crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko at the start of a meeting with European leaders aimed at patching up a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and resolving a dispute over gas supplies.
The various leaders emerged an hour later telling reporters some progress had been made and promising further talks.
“It was good, it was positive,” a smiling Putin told reporters after the meeting, held on the margins of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Milan.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later poured cold water on hopes of any breakthrough, saying “certain participants” had taken an “absolutely biased, non-flexible, non-diplomatic” approach to Ukraine.
“The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, the exchange of opinion is in progress,” he said.
A similar message emerged overnight after Putin met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a formerly cordial relationship that has come under heavy strain from Moscow’s support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The meeting was reported by both sides to have made little progress, with the Kremlin saying “serious differences” remained in their analysis of the crisis.
Putin, Poroshenko, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were due meet later in the day, their aides said.
The West has imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and its support for east Ukraine’s separatists.
The European leaders urged Russia to do more to end constant, deadly violations of a cease-fire that was agreed by Putin and Poroshenko last month in Minsk, saying Russia needed to fulfil its commitments.
Officials said local elections and the issue of using unmanned drone aircraft for surveillance of the borders between Russia and Ukraine were particular sticky points in the discussions, with Russia pushing to have its drones taking part alongside those offered by France and Germany.
The crisis in relations with Kiev has led Russia to cut gas supplies to Ukraine because of unpaid bills. The European Union fears this could threaten disruptions in the gas flow to the rest of the continent this winter, and is working hard to broker a deal.
Russia is Europe’s biggest gas supplier, accounting for around a third of demand, and the European Union gets about half of the Russian gas it uses via Ukraine.
The stand-off over pricing is the third in a decade between Moscow and Kiev, though this time tensions are higher because of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters that Russia, Ukraine and EU officials would meet in Brussels to try to resolve the gas row.
Taking the lead in the diplomacy, Merkel saw Poroshenko on Thursday evening and then met Putin until well after midnight — an encounter that was significantly delayed because the Russian president arrived in Milan much later than expected.
Speaking off the record, a German source said Putin had not been in a “too constructive mood.”
Putin had warned on Thursday that Russia would reduce gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine took gas from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs, although he added that he was “hopeful” it would not come to that.
More than 3,600 people have died in eastern Ukraine since fighting broke out in mid-April when armed separatists declared they were setting up their own state.
Although Putin announced this week that Russian troops near the border with Ukraine would be pulled back, Western officials want to see clear evidence that Moscow is acting on this.
“Vladimir Putin said very clearly he doesn’t want a frozen conflict and doesn’t want a divided Ukraine. But if that’s the case, then Russia now needs to take the actions to put in place all that has been agreed,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“If those things don’t happen, then clearly the European Union, Britain included, must keep in place the sanctions and the pressure so we don’t have this sort of conflict in our continent.”
Ex-Soviet state leaders pose on the sidelines of the CIS leaders summit in Minsk on Oct. 10. © AFP PHOTO / POOL/ALEKSEY NIKOLSKY
Darya Korsunskaya and Andrei Makhovsky reporting,
- Soccer fans detained after chants against Putin.
- Putin tries to build Eurasian Economic Union.
- Recriminations mar meeting of ex-Soviet states.
MINSK, (Reuters) – Vulgar chants about Vladimir Putin before he arrived for a regional summit in Belarus did not augur well for the Russian president’s hopes of bringing the leaders of former Soviet republics closer together.
Matters got even worse when bickering broke out at the start of the meeting, revealing fault lines over the Ukraine crisis and deepening doubts about the future of the loose grouping known as the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Jibes between Putin and the leader of Moldova, and barbs aimed at the absent Ukrainian leader, raised new questions about his ability to woo countries to the Eurasian Economic Union he is creating to try to rival the European Union’s economic might.
“Unfortunately disintegration tendencies are growing in the Commonwealth, especially considering attempts by individual well-wishers to bury the CIS,” Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko told the leaders, seated at a vast, ornate round table in the huge Independence Palace in the capital Minsk.
Underlining the need to end the bloodshed in Ukraine, he said: “The fighting directly affects the security and undermines the economic development of both Ukraine and the entire post-Soviet region as a whole.”
Lukashenko is a supporter of the CIS but his warning showed the extent of the problems Putin faces trying to rebuild ties between countries that were once part of the Soviet Union but are wary of letting Moscow come to dominate them again.
As Russia seeks to avoid international isolation because of Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, tension is growing rather than falling among the former Soviet states. Strains among some, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan, go deep.
This ensures that though the Eurasian Economic Union groups countries with a shared population of 170 million, a combined annual GDP of $2.7 trillion and vast energy riches, Putin is a long way from achieving his dream of building a bloc to match the EU, the United States and China as an economic power.
The chants of fans at the soccer match between Ukraine and Belarus on Thursday night highlighted the resentment felt towards Moscow in some ex-Soviet states.
Scores of Ukrainians and Belarussians were detained after shouting patriotic Ukrainian slogans such as “Glory to the Heroes!” and “Glory to Ukraine!” – rallying cries in Kiev’s conflict against Russian-backed separatists – as well as chanting abuse about Putin, a rights group and local media said.
The CIS groups 11 of the 15 former Soviet republics including Ukraine. The Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have all joined the EU. Georgia pulled out if the CIS after waging a brief war with Russia in 2008.
Putin has looked to Asia, and particularly China, to avoid isolation over the sanctions initially imposed on Russia for reclaiming Crimea and tightened over its backing for the separatists in east Ukraine.
He has also stepped up efforts to rebuild ties within the CIS since the Ukraine crisis began, but with mixed success.
Ukraine upset Moscow by deciding not to join the customs union and to deepen ties with the EU instead. Georgia and Moldova have also signed trade deals with the EU and Russia has banned imports of some Moldovan products such as wine.
“We still haven’t received any convincing arguments to explain such an embargo,” Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti told the summit in comments broadcast live on Russian television. “Unfortunately such actions undermine trust and agreements in the CIS.”
Putin hit back, saying agreements with the EU should be signed in a “timely” manner as otherwise they could damage “our own market”.
“This goes for Moldova and Ukraine,” he said.
Noting that Russia had managed to come to an agreement with the EU to delay Ukraine’s moves to deepen ties with the EU, he asked: “And where was Moldova?”
The Russian and Moldovan leaders then leant towards each other and exchanged words that were not picked up by the microphone, briefly ignoring the summit proceedings.
Recriminations worsened when Uzbek President Islam Karimov then spoke out against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for not attending the meeting, accusing him of preferring to go to Brussels to talk to Western leaders rather than meet his CIS colleagues. Kiev was represented by its envoy to Minsk.
Karimov challenged Poroshenko to decide once and for all whether CIS membership was in his country’s interests.
Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski (L) shakes hands with new Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna during a swearing-in ceremony for the new government at the presidential palace in Warsaw, Poland. Slawomir Kaminski / Reuters/Agencja Gazeta
WARSAW — The European Union will impose tougher sanctions on Russia unless Moscow’s policy in Ukraine changes, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna has said.
Since a cease-fire was agreed between pro-Moscow separatists and Ukraine’s government a month ago, most European leaders have focused on when the sanctions on Russia can be eased, with little discussion about making them tougher.
But breaches of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine have renewed Western diplomatic pressure on Moscow. Western states accuse Russia of giving military support to the rebels — an allegation the Kremlin has denied.
“If Russia does not change its policy, sanctions will be toughened and they will make themselves felt even more in Russia,” Schetyna said in an interview with Polish broadcast Polsat News.
“All the European countries are speaking with one voice, together with Australia, the U.S. and Canada. The free world says ‘no’ to this kind of policy,” he said. “The Polish viewpoint is shared by other countries.”
Poland, a NATO member which has borders with Russia and Ukraine, has been more hawkish than many other EU states on how to react to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
Schetyna was appointed foreign minister last month. His predecessor, Radoslaw Sikorski, was elected speaker of the Polish parliament.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel waits for Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb to arrive for talks at the chancellery in Berlin, on Sept. 29, 2014.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union and the U.S. may be facing a long confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, citing the 40 years it took East Germany to escape communist control.
Merkel, who grew up in former East Germany, signaled determination to uphold EU sanctions on Russia in comments in Berlin yesterday that underscored the fraught relationship with President Vladimir Putin, whose actions in the Ukrainian crisis she says are rooted in a Cold War mentality.
“I don’t see any change at the moment regarding Russia’s position,” Merkel said. “We needed 40 years to overcome East Germany. Sometimes in history one has to be prepared for the long haul, and not ask after four months if it still makes sense to keep up our demands.”
Merkel’s warning added to her comments to German industry leaders last week that an end to the ‘‘deep-rooted conflict’’ with Russia is far off as a cease-fire fails to halt fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
“Merkel lost faith in Putin a long time ago, but there’s now a realization in Germany and Europe that the Ukraine conflict is turning from hot-phase crisis management into a long game,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment’s office in Brussels, said by phone today.
Ukraine’s conflict, which the United Nations says has left more than 3,500 people dead, is forcing Merkel to take a stand as the country’s government seeks closer EU ties and accuses Putin of fomenting the pro-Russian rebellion in the east. Russia denies involvement in the conflict.
Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the worst casualties since a Sept. 5 truce, the government said yesterday. President Petro Poroshenko said last week that the worst of the war is over as Ukraine focuses on elections next month, securing gas supplies and preparing a bid for EU membership.
“As long as the EU tries to prop up the Kiev government, there will be permanent confrontation with Moscow,” Techau said.
Merkel, 60, grew up as the daughter a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, the state founded in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany in 1949 after the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II. Communist rule collapsed after the Berlin Wall was breached following mass protests in 1989, and East Germany ceased to exist with reunification on Oct. 3, 1990.
“Nobody had anticipated that Putin would take such a momentous decision” to “take us back to a Europe before 1989,” Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., said at a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington yesterday.
“A lot of trust was destroyed by Putin’s policy” in Ukraine, Wittig said. “And I think it’s a challenge to regain that trust.”
Merkel made her comments at a news conference after talks with Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, whose government has put fighter jets on alert after Russian planes repeatedly violated the northernmost euro-area country’s airspace.
Finland has the EU’s longest border with Russia and Stubb agreed that the Ukraine conflict isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. “We are looking at a long-term situation,” he said.
(To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at email@example.com Tony Czuczka, Chad Thomas).
Sergei Lavrov says situation in Ukraine is improving and recalls ‘reset’ phrase used by Washington at start of Obama presidency.
Reuters in Moscow.
Russian minister for foreign affairs, Sergei Lavrov, speaks at the UN general assembly. Photograph: UPI /Landov / Barcroft Media/UPI /Landov / Barcroft Media.
Moscow called on Sunday for a new “reset 2.0” in relations with Washington, saying the situation in Ukraine that had led to western sanctions against Russia was improving thanks to Kremlin peace initiatives.
Washington and Brussels accuse Moscow of supporting a pro-Russia rebellion in east Ukraine and have imposed sanctions, which they have repeatedly tightened since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March.
The conflict has brought relations between Moscow and the west to their lowest level since the end of the cold war. President Barack Obama said last week that the sanctions could be lifted if Russia takes the path of peace and diplomacy.
In television interviews on Sunday Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who on Saturday made critical remarks about US, western and Nato attitudes to Russia in a speech at the United Nations in New York, said it was time to repeat the “reset”, a word Washington used to describe an attempt to mend ties early in Obama’s presidency.
But he also repeated criticisms of Nato’s “cold war mentality”, criticised Washington for excluding Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad from its campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria, and said Washington “can no longer act as the prosecutor, the judge, and the executioner in every part of the world”.
“We are absolutely interested in bringing the ties to normal but it was not us who destroyed them. Now they require what the American would probably call a ‘reset’,” Lavrov said, according to a transcript of one interview on his ministry’s website.
“The current US administration is destroying today much of the cooperation structure that it created itself along with us. Most likely, something more will come up – a reset No2 or a reset 2.0,” he told Russia’s Channel 5 television.
Shortly after Obama took office in 2009, his then secretary of state Hilary Clinton presented Lavrov with a red “reset” button that was intended to signal a fresh start to relations that had been strained under Obama’s predecessor George W Bush. In a diplomatic gaffe much mocked at the time, the button bore a Russian label that said “overload” instead of “reset”; the two words are similar in Russian.
Lavrov said that thanks to “initiatives of the Russian president”, the situation was improving on the ground in Ukraine, where a ceasefire has been in place for several weeks. The 5 September truce is largely holding, though some fighting has continued in places including the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
“The ceasefire is taking shape, though of course not without problems. Monitoring mechanisms have been introduced, talks between Russia, the European Union and Ukraine have started, gas talks have restarted,” Lavrov said.
Western countries say thousands of Russian troops have fought in Ukraine and accuse Moscow of sending weapons, including a surface-to-air missile used to shoot down a Malaysian airliner over rebel-held territory in July. Moscow denies participating in the conflict or arming the rebels.
Speaking to Russia’s state-funded international broadcaster, RT, Lavrov said “Nato still has the cold war mentality”, and said Moscow needed to modernise its conventional and nuclear arms, though he denied this would lead to “a new arms race”.
Lavrov also repeated Russian criticism of the US-led air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria, accusing Washington of a “double standard” for refusing to cooperate with Syrian president Assad. Washington has repeatedly called for Assad’s dismissal and backed some of the rebels fighting to topple him since early 2011.
“There’s no room for petty grievances in politics,” Lavrov told RT. “I very much hope that the United States will finally … realise that they can no longer act as the prosecutor, the judge, and the executioner in every part of the world and that they need to cooperate to resolve issues.”
Lavrov said that despite the Western sanctions, Russia did not feel isolated on the world stage. Moscow has responded to the sanctions by banning most Western food imports.
“We feel no isolation. But, having said that, I want to emphasise in particular that we do not want to go to extremes and abandon the European and American directions in our foreign economic cooperation,” Lavrov told Channel 5.
“We have no desire to continue a sanctions war, trading blows,” Lavrov also said. “First of all, it is important that our partners understand the futility of ultimatums and threats.”