Bulgaria, European Union president for the first half of 2018, presides at the March and June summits of the bloc. The two meetings loom as the ones most likely to result in the softening – or even the lifting – of EU sanctions against Russia.
The sanctions, imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for Ukrainian separatists, are due to come up for renewal during the Bulgarian presidency. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev campaigned on improving his country’s ties to Moscow, and the center-right party GERB party of the reelected and mainly pro-EU prime minister, Boyko Borissov, is seeking a pro-Russia coalition partner in order to form a government. There’s speculation that some countries might break ranks and vote against the trade and financing restrictions. Newsweek noted in Oct 2017 that there are a number of member states who see the sanctions as a problem. The magazine listed Italy, Austria, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and several central and eastern European members. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, under pressure from German business, is widely reported to be amenable to watering down the sanctions. Leonid Bershidsky commented in Canada’s National Post in May 2016 that European figures and the Kremlin are looking for ways to defuse the Ukraine dispute without losing face. He adds that EU political leaders and officials have said many times that sanctions won’t be lifted until Russia fully adheres to the Minsk deal, but they never said the menu of sanctions couldn’t be changed. The 2014 Minsk deal was aimed at resolving the strife across eastern and southern Ukraine.
Date written/update: 2017-11-28