Putin calls for EU sanctions rethink
Western sanctions against Russia have failed and all sides would benefit from lifting them, Russian President Vladimir Putin said as he visited Austria: one of the European Union’s more pro-Kremlin members.
But EU travel restrictions and asset freezes against 150 Russians and 38 firms are set to remain in force until at least September.
Coupled with lower oil prices, the sanctions contributed to the two-year Russian recession but the economy has rebounded and Putin emphasised that lifting the sanctions would answer common interests and he said that both Russia and the EU would benefit from a return to full-scale co-operation.
In Putin’s first trip to the west since being elected for a fourth term in March, he called for EU sanctions imposed after the 2014 Crimea invasion to be lifted.
“These actions are harmful for everyone, both for those who initiate them and for those against whom they are directed,” Putin told the media. “I, therefore, think everyone has an interest in cancelling them.”
Austria’s 33-year-old chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said he would not break ranks with the rest of the bloc on the issue.
Vienna has called for the sanctions to be removed and Austria takes the EU’s rotating six-month presidency in July.
But Brussels insists the conflict in eastern Ukraine must improve before sanctions are lifted.
“In particular, we hope that there will be progress in eastern Ukraine, so that sanctions can be removed step by step in accordance with the Minsk agreement,” Kurz said, referring to a 2015 peace agreement arranged by Germany and France that has not been properly implemented.
Kurz was a schoolboy when Putin became president in 2000.
Putin asked for a fresh start in Russia-EU relations during his meeting with Kurz of the right-wing Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the extremist Freedom Party.
Austria has maintained relatively close ties with Putin’s regime and did not expel Russian diplomats after the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.
The managers of Russia’s state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom and Austria’s OMV signed an agreement on Russian natural gas supplies until 2040, a deal Putin said highlighted their “significant [bilateral] contribution to energy security in Europe”.
OMV is also among the energy firms involved in the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would double the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany, avoiding Ukraine.
Nord Stream 2 is heavily opposed by the US. Picture credit: YouTube