EU to extend sanctions against Russia for six months
Leaders refrain from imposing further restrictions on Moscow over actions in Syria
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, French president Francois Hollande, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras ahead of a European Union leaders’ summit at the European Council in Brussels. Photographh: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
EU leaders agreed to extend sanctions against Russia for a further six months in response to Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine and Crimea, but refrained from sanctioning Moscow directly over actions in Syria.
As the evacuation of the Syrian city of Aleppo commenced on Thursday, leaders meeting in Brussels agreed to roll over sanctions against Russian individuals and entities connected with Ukraine and Crimea which have been in place since 2014.
However, they did not endorse sanctions against Russians linked to its involvement in the Syrian war, though a joint communique agreed by leaders said that “all available options” over Syria were on the table.
Denmark and Sweden were among the countries pushing for more sanctions to be imposed ahead of the meeting. Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Lofven said he was “prepared to push for sanctions also going forward given what’s happening in Syria”.
His Danish counterpart, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, said that while he was not sure that “more sanctions will be the step that makes a difference right now . . . one has to be ready to do so”.
France, meanwhile, accused Russia of making “commitments that it is not keeping”. “We can’t leave women, men and children to suffer bombing, have their safety threatened, be taken by force and treated in such an undignified manner,” said French president Francois Hollande on arrival in Brussels. “The regimes that support [Syrian president] Bashar Assad will have to take responsibility for this extremely serious situation.”
In response to the developments in Aleppo, EU leaders called for the “safety and dignity” of inhabitants to be ensured during the evacuation process.
Nato envoys will meet with Russian representatives on Monday, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said, amid ongoing concern about the situation in Aleppo and ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Leaders also broke a deadlock over the ratification of an EU-Ukraine association agreement which had been delayed following its rejection by Dutch voters in a referendum in April.
In a concession to the Netherlands, leaders agreed to add an annex to the agreement stating that the pact “does not confer on Ukraine the status of a candidate country for accession to the union, nor does it constitute a commitment to confer such status to Ukraine in the future.”
It also clarified that the agreement does not grant Ukrainian nationals the right to reside and work freely in the European Union, while also ruling out any obligation on the EU to “provide collective security guarantees or other military aid or assistance to Ukraine”.
While Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte will now bring the agreement to parliament, he said that securing agreement would not be easy.
“I have made the assessment that if we make a good deal that I would have a fighting chance to get it through parliament,” Mr Rutte said after the discussion on the trade deal. “But that remains to be seen, it won’t be easy.”
Also on the agenda at the one-day summit, which overran by several hours, was a discussion on EU defence policy, with the bloc pledging to beef up the union’s defence capabilities, and enhance co-operation between the EU and Nato, a potentially sensitive issue for non-Nato members such as Ireland.
France and Germany have been leading calls for a stronger EU defence and security policy in the wake of terrorist attacks over the last year and concerns about Russian aggression.
The leaders also reiterated their commitment to the EU-Turkey migration pact which was signed in March and is credited with reducing the number of migrants arriving through Turkey.
The status of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU remains a contentious subject for some member states in light of the widespread crackdown on suspected dissidents in Turkey since the failed coup in July.