As reported by Censor.NET citing The Financial Times, the U.S. has urged the European Union to hold firm on its sanctions against Russia, amid deepening divisions and the growing influence of pro-Kremlin political parties in the bloc.
David Tessler, a senior US state department official, speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, called on the EU to maintain rolling punitive measures on Russia that have come under attack from Italy’s coaliltion government. In a push to co-ordinate transatlantic sanctions efforts, the US official is visiting European capitals this week — including Rome — ahead of an EU summit on whether to renew measures imposed on Moscow after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
"One of the messages I am bringing to Europe is that we need to, together, combat this threat, not as a theoretical danger, but as a very clear and present one," Mr Tessler said. "We feel very strongly that sanctions need to remain in place until we see the behavioural change we are looking for from the Russian government."
The state department representative also praised the EU for "doing a lot" to target alleged malign Kremlin behaviour, through anti-disinformation efforts, a new mechanism to impose chemical weapons sanctions, and plans for possible countermeasures over cyberattacks. He said that hostile activity by Vladimir Putin’s government was growing — and justified tougher action still.
"It’s frustrating that the Russian threat is getting worse, despite everything we are doing," Mr Tessler said. "Our position then is that we need to increase the cost."
Mr Tessler’s call for unity on Russia contrasts sharply with the transatlantic dispute over Iran, where the EU is defying President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a nuclear deal with Tehran and reimpose sanctions. But longstanding disagreements over Russia among EU member states have deepened after alleged Kremlin operations — denied by Moscow — to poison a former spy with a nerve agent in the UK and to hack organisations such as the international chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague.
At the same time, pro-Kremlin political parties have joined coalition governments in Austria and Italy, where Matteo Salvini, the interior minister, has branded the Russia sanctions "economic, social and cultural madness".
Asked about Italian complaints that the EU’s Russia counter-measures cost Rome heavily in business and job opportunities, Mr Tessler said: "There’s an inherent cost to sanctions for everybody." He added: "There can’t be cost-free sanctions."
Some EU diplomats expect a fresh Italian move on Russia as soon as next month at an EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels, where governments would need to endorse a further half-year extension of sanctions over Russia’s occupation of Crimea. These measures limit Russian access to EU capital markets, and "sensitive technologies" and services used for oil production. They also ban Russia-related arms sales, and exports of dual-use goods for military use in Russia. EU member states that are critical of the sanctions may be emboldened further by the imminent departure of the UK from the EU in March, and the looming departure of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Ms Merkel was instrumental in securing the Crimea sanctions.