BELGRADE – US Vice-President Joe Biden says Europe could walk away from sanctions against Russia, unless Ukraine makes progress with economic and political reforms. At least five countries want to drop the sanctions, he warned.
“We know that if they give an excuse to the EU, there are at least five countries right now that want to say ‘We want out’,” of sanctions against Moscow, Biden said, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York on Wednesday.
Biden added that he has spent two to three hours a week on the phone with the Ukrainian leadership since the crisis in that country began, and called on it to carry on with the reforms. The VP also acknowledged pressuring Germany, France and Italy to stick to the sanctions.
“There’s an overwhelming instinct in Europe to say, ‘Hey: before [Petro Poroshenko] became president, this was owned by Russia anyway. They had a puppet there. What difference does it make? What the hell’s the difference? Why are you making us engage in these sanctions?’” Biden said, as cited by Reuters.
“I’ve been the guy on the back of Ukrainians – which was a thoroughly corrupt system when they came in – making the case that, ‘You have to understand: everybody’s willing to blame the victim, and you better straighten up and fly right,’” he added.
Biden’s statement comes a day after he met with Poroshenko at the UN. The VP said that all policy steps were taken to issue to Ukraine a third US sovereign loan guarantee of up to $1 billion. He urged Poroshenko to accelerate the reforms in Ukraine’s energy and justice sectors.
Last week, Ukraine was given the green light to receive US$1 billion from the IMF that had been withheld for almost a year over corruption and budget issues. In February, IMF head Christine Lagarde called for “a substantial new effort” from Kiev to enact reforms and fight corruption.
The EU imposed economic sanctions against Russia in July 2014 over the crisis in Ukraine and the Russian reunification with Crimea.
The sanctions target Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors, along with a number of government officials, businessmen and public figures.
Some EU members seem to be in doubt as to whether or not they should persist with the sanctions. On Wednesday, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said that sanctions against Russia don’t give a “chance for dialogue and problem resolution.” In July, the Cypriot parliament passed a resolution urging the government to work towards the removal of anti-Russian sanctions.
The foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary have been calling for the sanctions to be ended. Several regions in Italy have also urged the Italian authorities to end the sanctions, while both houses of the French Parliament have voted in favor of a resolution aimed at lifting anti-Russian sanctions earlier this year.
Despite growing indignation among the members, the EU formally extended economic restrictions against Russia on July 1 for another six months. Russia also prolonged its embargo on Western food imports until the end of 2017.
Trade between Russia and the EU dropped from $417.7 billion in 2013 to $235.7 billion last year.