MOSCOW — The Kremlin denounced the European Union for what it called “Russophobic” policies and warned of possible further retaliation of its own after European officials extended sanctions for an additional six months Monday over Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.
The extension until Jan. 31 will keep the European measures in place through the year-end deadline for implementing all parts of a cease-fire agreement to settle the conflict between Ukraine’s Western-allied government and pro-Moscow rebels. Western leaders have repeatedly said that Russia must support implementation of the agreement before sanctions can start to be rolled back.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev proposed answering the E.U. move by also extending Moscow’s restrictive measures — such as import bans — against the West for six more months, according to the Russian news service Interfax.
European and U.S. sanctions have limited or banned the export of key technology to Russia’s defense and energy sectors and severely restricted financing for the Russian banking sector.
In turn, Russia has banned the import of almost all produce, meat, dairy and fish from the E.U. and the United States. Both sides have drawn up blacklists of individuals subject to asset freezes and travel bans.
Extending the sanctions against Russia was seen as a way to maintain pressure on Moscow to continue with cease-fire efforts, even as escalating clashes in Ukraine dim hopes of a lasting truce.
But in Moscow, leaders complained that keeping the sanctions in place would undermine progress toward normalization of relations between Russia and the West.
“Even partial softening of the sanctions would have created a positive dynamic,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian Duma’s international relations committee, told Interfax. “Even though the prolongation of the sanctions does not immediately sharply worsen the situation — it remains as it was — it creates a negative tone for at least another half a year in the relations between Russia and the European Union.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was “very disappointed” that the E.U. had sided with the “Russophobic lobby, which pushed the decision to extend the illegal restrictions.”
Until several weeks ago, it was unclear whether the E.U. would be able to muster the necessary unanimous support to keep the sanctions regime going.
In recent months, Russia has made concerted efforts to court sympathetic governments and foster pro-Russian political support in Europe — especially in debt-saddled Greece, whose leaders have suggested they might look to Moscow for financial aid.
Russia has stopped short of offering Greece anything more than promises and plans to develop various sectors of its economy.
Greece did not stand in the way of the sanctions extension, which came just hours before an emergency summit in Brussels seeking to reach a deal to keep Greece from a default that could push it from the euro zone.
Even with Europe taking the lead on sanctions, some in Russia turned their dismay toward Washington.
“The Americans declare their interest in the provision of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. But they have absolutely no interest in Ukraine. They are interested in Russia,” Nikolai Patrushev, chair of the Russian Security Council and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant published Monday. “The United States wants Russia to cease to exist as a country,” Patrushev said.
In Berlin, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States will contribute Special Operations forces, surveillance aircraft and weaponry to a new NATO task force designed to respond to crises in Eastern Europe and northern Africa.
“We do not seek a cold let alone a hot war with Russia,” Carter said in a speech earlier Monday. “But make no mistake: We will defend our allies. . . . We will stand up to Russia’s actions and their attempts to reestablish a Soviet-era sphere of influence.”