June 06, 2018
Putin's new European strategy
There seems to be an important shift in Moscow's strategy towards the EU. The Russians are no longer betting on the EU sanctions being lifted as a result of a veto by an EU member state. This is possible in theory, since the annual renewal of the sanction requires unanimous consent by the European Council.
The Russian reaction to the new Italian government's promises to end the sanctions was notably downbeat. La Repubblica quotes Oleg Barabanov, of the Russian think tank Valdai Club, as saying that Russia has been disappointed by earlier promises from Alexis Tsipras and Viktor Orbán. When confronted with the big beast in the European Council, they did not raise their voice, let alone cast a veto on the annual renewal of sanctions. Interfax quotes Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian senate, as saying that Italy is part of the EU and Russia knows only too well from the past that people made all sorts of declarations, only to falter in the end.
The Russian strategy is to use the EU's growing disillusionment with Donald Trump as an opportunity to reboot EU-Russian relations, not through sabotage but through persuasion. During his visit in Vienna, Vladimir Putin made a plea for improved relations with Russia's European friends, as he put it. And he got an enthusiastic response from Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, who said he wants to prioritise the issue during Austria's EU presidency in the second half of the year. But Austria will not veto any EU decisions either.