EU extends Russian sanctions – but rift widens with Tillerson appointment

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski

Russian sanctions: As widely anticipated, European Union leaders last week voted to extend economic sanctions against Russia over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine for a further six months. There were, however, signs of a rift beginning to emerge between some East European countries – led by Poland – seeking a longer extension amid fears that US President-elect Donald Trump would ease pressure on Moscow and others–  by Italy– who advocate re-establishing business ties with Moscow.
Formal procedures  to extend the sanctions on Russia’s defence, energy and financial sectors will take place in the next few days.
The EU first slapped sanctions on Russia in 2014 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine and subsequently racked up the pressure after it accused Moscow of supporting a separatist rebellion in Ukraine’s industrial east. It has extended them twice a year ever since.
There was little doubt that another six-month sanctions would be agreed at yesterday’s meeting; but concerns that Trump and his chosen Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who only stepped down as CEO of Exxon Mobile this week)  might adopt a softer approach in their dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin prompted the hawks among the EU leadership to try and pre-empt any change of American heart by doubling the length of the new ban.
“Some of our colleagues would prefer maybe 12 months but … what is possible is maintaining our current format, it means six months,” European Council President (and former Prime Minister of Poland) Donald Tusk said after the meeting.
The extension was agreed “based on the current situation”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel rather than on attempts to “anticipate what the new American president might do.”