Italy delays EU decision on Russia sanctions: ‘Surprise, positive development’

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi delivers a speech during the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015. © Christian Hartmann
Italian PM Matteo Renzi is trying to push for a more reasonable EU approach to anti-Russian sanctions, says journalist Marcello Foa. It’s a surprise move given that it contradicts US policy that’s ”very influential” in the region, he adds.

EU envoys met Wednesday to discuss a further extension of the sanctions imposed on Russia, which should expire at the end of January. Italy, however, postponed the decision demanding it should be discussed further within the bloc.

RT: Rome's reportedly only made its move at the last minute. What do you make of that?

Marcello Foa: It really a big surprise for everybody, even for the Italian media that didn’t pay too much attention so far. It is a surprise because [Prime Minister Matteo] Renzi was not seen as a very courageous leader, especially in foreign policy. So the fact that he decided to ask for a public discussion about sanctions is a really unusual and I would say a very positive development.

RT: What’s his motive for doing this, do you think?

MF: We don’t know exactly. He might be angry with the Americans or probably the real reason is – he is under pressure from Italian industry, especially the [agricultural] sector, which is suffering very much from sanctions. Maybe he fears that the crisis between Russia and the US is going too far, and he believes that everybody should be more careful and responsible, and he is trying to push a more reasonable approach in the EU.

RT: You mentioned that it is a “positive move.” Is that largely because of sort of economic ramifications?

MF: Yes, apparently that is the main reason. But we don’t know - diplomats don’t tell you the truth... Renzi might be also a bit angry with European leaders that [haven’t been taking] him seriously so far. He might try to have a stronger position in the EU, or maybe he is listening to his colleague Silvio Berlusconi, who as you know, has a very different attitude to Mr. [Vladimir] Putin. He is urging the Italian government to have more a responsible and positive attitude in the EU.

RT: Do you think Italy is a lone voice here in Europe. How united is Europe in sanctions regime against Russia, in your opinion? 

MF: ... Italy is not alone. We know that other countries like Hungary, Cyprus, and Greece don’t want the EU to be too aggressive with Russia. Maybe Mr. Renzi is trying to unite those countries and to push France and Germany to be more reasonable. ... Even in Germany some voices now are against sanctions against Russia.

RT:Does Washington have any role to play here?

MF: Yes, they are very influential. This is a very crucial point: why Renzi who usually is very keen to listen what Washington suggests in international affairs decided to take a public stance that contradicts Washington’s policy in this region? This is the most interesting, but without the real explanation so far...

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