In another sign of crumbling European resolve over Ukraine, the French Senate voted Wednesday to urge its government to gradually dismantle economic sanctions on Russia, a move welcomed by the Kremlin. The vote came as politicians across the European Union have hinted at wanting to reduce sanctions ahead of renewal talks this month.
Passed by a 302-16 vote, the French Senate’s resolution calls for “gradually and partially” lifting sanctions, the Associated Press reported. German officials have also made statements in recent weeks indicating their backing of gradually lifting sanctions as long as progress is shown toward implementing the Minsk peace agreements.
“I consider this decision to be positive,” Sergey Naryshkin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, told the state news agency Tass Thursday. “The resolution is advisory, but the government cannot ignore [the] parliamentarians’ opinion, the more so since France is a state governed by the rule of law. In a law-governed country, it is impossible to defy the opinion of lawmakers.”
The 28-member European Union and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia after what they considered its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. They extended the sanctions after the beginning of a civil war in eastern Ukraine the following month. The ongoing conflict has left more than 9,300 people dead, about 21,000 wounded and over 1.4 million displaced, the United Nations reported.
The Ukrainian government has continued to argue that sanctions are a key tool to counter Russian aggression. And EU officials have said sanctions will not be lifted until the terms of the Minsk peace agreements meant to end the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels are met.
“When the Minsk agreements are implemented, sanctions will be lifted,” said Harlem Désir, France’s minister of state for European affairs.
Russia imposed its own sanctions in retaliation against the EU, banning the bloc’s dairy, fruit, meat and vegetable products. France’s automobile, food and oil industries all have declined because of the sanctions.
Fraying European unity over the sanctions underscores the importance of the economic relationship between Russia and the bloc. Before sanctions were implemented, the EU was Russia’s largest trading partner. The Russian economy has been badly battered by a combination of low oil prices and sanctions, and it is expected to contract by 1.9 percent this year, the World Bank has forecast.
EU officials are scheduled to discuss renewing the sanctions on Russia at a meeting this month. Any decision to renew them must be unanimous.