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Pressure by critics of anti-Russian sanctions may force Brussels to take softer line

April 07, 2015, 18:58 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, April 7. /TASS/. Greece and some other EU countries, unhappy about Brussels’ policy of sanctions against Moscow, may eventually contribute to an easing of the EU stance on the issue, but will hardly succeed to present a common pro-Russian front inside the European Union, Russian experts believe.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is arriving in Moscow on a visit. Russian presidential press-secretary Dmitry Peskov has said that one of the themes of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talks with Tsipras will be relations between Moscow and the EU in the context of Brussels’ policy of sanctions and Athens’ cool attitude to it."

The Greek authorities have come out against EU sanctions towards Russia more than once, although they have never used the right of veto at EU summits. On the eve of his visit to Russia Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras confirmed that in an interview to TASS.

"We disagree with the sanctions. I believe that they are a road leading nowhere. I maintain that there must be a dialogue, there must be diplomacy. Solutions to major problems are to be looked for at the negotiating table," Tsipras said.

Athens’ stance on the issue, just as Tsipras’s trip to Moscow, has drawn outspoken criticism from a number of EU countries. The Greek government has been accused of attempts to ruin the EU unity. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has urged Greece not to push European partners away by concluding deals with Russia, and the chairman of the German parliament’s European affairs committee, Gunther Krichbaum, said the compass of those who count on EU assistance should be directed towards Brussels, and not to Moscow.

The group of sanctions’ critics, alongside Greece, includes Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. Finland disagrees with the harsh policy of sanctions, too. And their resistance to Brussels’ hard line is mounting.

"It is beyond doubt that Alexis Tsipras’s visit to Russia will cause nervousness inside the EU leadership bodies and in the capitals of the leading European countries, Berlin first and foremost," the chief of European Political Studies at the RAS institute of world economic and international relations (IMEMO), Nadezhda Arbatova, told TASS. "As is known, relations between Germany and Greece remain particularly strained, as Merkel is adamant in her refusal to write off Greece’s debt. And stronger contacts between the Euroskeptics inside the UE and Russia are creating a rather awkward situation for the EU leadership amid the crisis with Moscow."

Athens is expected to pay an overdue IMF loan on April 9. Arbatova believes that Tsipras’s visit to Moscow is sending the EU an unequivocal message: Greece has alternatives to choose from. "Many analysts see this visit as an attempt to put pressures on Brussels," she added.

Arbatova recalls that Greece is not the sole country seeking support from Moscow, Both Cyprus and Hungary have already shown they have special interests on the Russian track. "But, however angry some countries may be over the policy of sanctions towards Moscow, and however annoying they may find Brussels’s and Berlin’s attitudes, they will hardly agree to put their EU membership at stake," she said.

The list of those upset over the losses from Russia’s counter-embargo on food imports is patchy and varied.

"For instance, Italy Spain, Austria and even Slovakia - all seeking the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions - will not dare go as far as open confrontation with Brussels. In other words, there will be no explicitly pro-Russian lobby inside the EU. At the same time these countries may have a say in shaping the EU’s common policy, if relations between Moscow and Brussels keep turning for the better, albeit slowly, but surely.

The director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the world economy and world politics relations department of the Higher School of Economics, Timofei Bordachyov, agrees.

"I do not think that Greece will be trying to block EU decisions regarding sanctions, but it will certainly team up with the other countries critical of sanctions, such as Austria, Finland, Italy, and Spain, Bordachyov told TASS. "As a result these countries will exerting soft but systematic pressures on the EU leadership with a view to eventually curtailing the sanctions." In his opinion this will happen, if the situation in the southeast of Ukraine fails to mend.

Bordachyov does not expect any of the leaders of other EU countries will dare take risks and stage such outright demarches as Tsipras. He believes that departure from sanctions may be "gradual, and not follow individual politicians’ drastic moves."

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