French senators on Wednesday called on the French government and the European Union to begin lifting sanctions against Russia.
After the unpleasant history of refusals to grant visas to Ukrainian fans wishing to attend Euro-2016, France has bestowed another unpleasant surprise on Ukrainians. The Senate (the upper house in Parliament) has voted overwhelmingly to support the resolution calling on the government of François Hollande not to support the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia. Voting “for” were 302 out of 348 members of the Senate. Only 16 voted against.
The call came on the eve of the decision in Brussels on the further fate of the sanctions. In late June, the Council of Europe will decide whether sanctions against Russia will be continued.
The key players — Angela Merkel and François Hollande — say the sanctions must be continued because Russia is not abiding by the Minsk agreements.
The resolution adopted by the French Senate is only a recommendation that the government is not obliged to follow. But it creates a negative information environment for Ukraine. Like the Dutch referendum, it is one more step in the transition from a sanctions regime to “constructive cooperation.”
Probably, the process will develop as follows: in the summer the European Union will agree to continue sanctions, but this will happen for the last or the next to the last time. Smart people in Ukraine understand this already and are saying that Ukraine must prepare for new realities.
By the way, it is not yet a fact that the lifting of sanctions will help the damaged Russian economy. The second factor — low oil prices — continues to have a destructive effect.
What did the French vote mean?
The Senate vote was the logical continuation of the previous vote in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament. On April 28, the resolution proposed by Russia’s friend Thierry Mariani was adopted. This is the same deputy who is co-chairman of the Franco-Russian Dialogue Association and who, in July 2015, organized an excursion to Russian-annexed Crimea for several colleagues.
The resolution was adopted because the majority of the pro-government deputies ignored the meeting and were not in the hall during the vote. “For” was voted by 55 deputies and 44 voted “against.” This was despite the fact that there are 577 deputies in the National Assembly!
“One has the impression that the government is interested in exactly this kind of voting in Parliament, but for diplomatic reasons is treacherously washing its hands of the matter. Shame on you, France! When did you learn to disregard the victim of aggression and support the aggressor?” Ukrainian journalist Alla Lazareva, who works in Paris, wrote in her Facebook page after the Senate vote.
Her argument is reinforced by the fact that this resolution was supported by many socialists — members of the same party as President Hollande. Furthermore, the co-authors of the resolution are the socialist Simon Suture and Yves Pozzo di Borgo, who is remembered by Ukrainians for posing in Crimea in a t-shirt stating “Obama, you’re a schmuck.”
The text of the resolution adopted by the Senate is more balanced and contains fewer categorically pro-Russian statements than the text of the resolution adopted by the National Assembly.
There is no final version yet of the adopted resolution. But based on the version posted on the Senate website, it calls on the French government to take the following actions:
– To begin gradual and partial easing of EU sanctions against Russia, especially economic sanctions considering the “significant progress” in the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
– To continue negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in the “Normandy” format.
– To review diplomatic and political sanctions, and to support the continuation of negotiations at higher levels between Russia and EU member states.
– To appeal to European partners to immediately cancel individual sanctions against Russian deputies.
– To ensure that the reduction or elimination of EU sanctions is accompanied by corresponding measures on the part of the Russian Federation.
Concerned Ukrainians and the Ukrainian government have tried to persuade the senators not to support the resolution. During the debates and voting, protests organized by the Ukrainian community were held outside the Senate walls. Protestors came with flags of Ukraine and France and signs stating that Putin is a terrorist and that sanctions against him must not be lifted.
Even before the French vote, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada adopted a formal appeal to the French Senate not to support this resolution. And, after the vote, the Ukrainian Embassy in France urged the French government to preserve wisdom and firmness on the issue of sanctions.
Zones of risk
France is not the only country putting out signals about its reluctance to support the sanctions against Russia. The weak spot of the sanctions decision is the requirement that it must be adopted unanimously by all members of the European Union. If even one country is opposed, the sanctions are suspended.
Similar attitudes to those in France can also be found in Italy. It is enough to point to the recent actions by the deputies of the Veneto region, who adopted a resolution to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and to lift sanctions.
Of course, this decision has zero impact legally, but it adds to the information environment that is being carefully created by the Eurosceptics and by Russian propaganda.
In general, the countries of southern Europe that are located far from Ukraine have very little interest in the events taking place in Ukraine. And when the Russian embargo on EU products affected pockets of their farmers, they began to talk about lifting sanctions.
Hungary is also in the zone of risk. Prime Minister Viktor Orban does not hide his Eurosceptic views, although he does not dare go against the entire European Union by himself. However, he does not need to do so if he is able to milk Moscow and Brussels at the same time.
We should also not forget the pro-Russian attitudes of the prime ministers of Greece and Slovakia. In short, the fact that these sanctions were even adopted at all is already a big victory for the cumbersome European Union.
Bohdan Yaremenko, head of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs organization, believes that in the event that “similar events also take place in other countries” after France, The EU will begin to insist on the holding of elections in occupied Donbas. However, he warns that Ukraine must never agree to it.
“We must finally understand that under their current form sanctions against Russia will be neither eternal nor even very long. Therefore, it would be the height of diplomatic stupidity to sacrifice anything for their continuation,” Yaremenko writes on Facebook.
The struggle for the sanctions continues, but for Ukraine this is the time to prepare alternatives if the European Union gives Putin the “green light.” It is a pity that the “old Europe” does not realize the dangers of such a step.