US presidential hopeful: Sanctions don't facilitate 'rapprochement' with Russia

Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who has entered the race for the Democratic nomination for president, has questioned the US policy of imposing sanctions on Russia. There are “better ways to get rapprochement” with Moscow, he said.

"I should think there would be better ways of getting a rapprochement with Russia," Democratic presidential hopeful Chafee, a fierce critic of rival frontrunner Hillary Clinton over her 2002 vote on Iraq War, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

"They’re so important in the world, and especially to the countries, the former Soviet Republics, such as Ukraine,"said Chafee, who previously served in the Senate as a Republican.

He added: "We need to wage peace in this world. That's our responsibility. That's the charge that we're given with our economic power that we have."

When asked how he would reshape relations with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, Chafee said to start with the US needs to learn from previous mistakes.

A residential building destroyed by an attack of Ukrainian forces in Donetsk. (RIA Novosti/Irina Gerashchenko)

“Stop making mistakes that Secretary Clinton made when we were trying to restart our relations with Russia and Sec. Clinton presented the foreign minister with a symbolic gesture and they got the Russian word wrong. It’s those types of mistakes that set back a relationship – little symbolic mistakes.”

In 2009, the then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, with a little gift meant to highlight the Obama administration’s readiness “to press the reset button” in relationships with Moscow. Instead of the Russian word for “reset” (perezagruzka) the box featured a different word – peregruzka, which translates as “overload” or “overcharged.”

"You’ve got it wrong," Lavrov noted with a smile. The grammatical gaffe created a stir in the media.

READ MORE: German business leaders rebuke G7 for ditching Russia

The carrot-and-stick policy in regard to Russia has been considered unconstructive and ineffective by a number of politicians and economists. A senior member of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), Matthias Platzeck, told Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper in May that among other things, "The process of disintegration in the Middle East, in Iran, Afghanistan and Syria can only be solved with Russia."

Greece revealed last month it was asked by the US to prolong anti-Russia sanctions. Athens replied that Russia is a strategic ally and the “sanction war” is causing it an estimated loss of €4 billion a year.

"I was asked to support the prolongation of the sanctions, particularly in connection with Crimea. I explained the Ukrainian issue was very sensitive for Greece as some 300,000 Greeks live in Mariupol and its neighborhood, and they feel safe next to the Orthodox Church," Defense Minister Panos Kammenos was cited as saying on the Ministry of National Defense website.

Italian media also previously reported that the sanctions have affected the country’s economy, with trade turnover falling by 17 percent, and the Italian economy losing 5.3 billion euros. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in May that “Italy can’t afford to close the doors to Russia”and“can’t cut ties” with Moscow. Gentiloni also told La Stampa newspaper that Russia plays a major role in resolving world crises.

A woman by her ruined house after a Ukrainian military artillery attack on Gorlovka, Donetsk region. (RIA Novosti/Igor Maslov)

European experts estimate that due to the sanctions, the West lost €40 billion last year, which includes a €12 billion loss by European farmers. Despite the economic difficulties that the sanctions against Russia, imposed over its stance on the conflict between Kiev and rebels in eastern Ukraine, have brought to the EU, leaders gathered at the G7 meeting on Sunday called for even tougher measures. Russia was expelled from the club last year in protest over its support for the referendum in Crimea, where the majority of residents voted for secession from Ukraine and in favor of joining Russia.

READ MORE: Obama to urge G7 leaders to maintain Russia sanctions – while admitting they don’t work

According to a statement issued by the White House after a one-on-one meeting between Angela Merkel and Barack Obama in Bavaria, it was restated that the “duration of sanctions should be clearly linked to Russia’s full implementation of the Minsk agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Ahead of Obama's visit to Germany, White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated, however, that the introduction of the sanctions on Russia has not brought any positive results.

"I would acknowledge that we have not yet seen the kind of change in behavior that we have long sought now,"Earnest said in his daily press briefing.

READ MORE: West frustrated over Kiev’s breaches of Minsk deals – Russian UN envoy

The Obama administration has maintained that the longer the sanctions are in place, “the more of an economic bite they take out of the Russian economy.” This, despite the fact a number of EU members have been hit hard by Russian counter-sanctions.

“I think these sanctions are affecting Europe much more as a whole than was expected, and the others on the other side of the Atlantic are not affected at all,” former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told RT in November.

The Minsk-2 deal, reached on February 12, includes a requirement to withdraw heavy weapons from the contact line and establish a buffer zone. But tensions have been running high in eastern Ukraine recently, leading to growing concerns that the fragile ceasefire was on the verge of collapse.

The US State Department refused to acknowledge that the Kiev authorities are violating the Minsk peace agreements, however, turning a blind eye to daily OSCE reports that equally implicate the government and the rebel forces. The Ukrainian General Staff acknowledged last week that Kiev’s forces were using heavy artillery that had previously been withdrawn from the frontline under February’s Minsk peace deal.

Moscow, meanwhile, believes that the timing of the new tensions is directly connected with the upcoming EU summit, which is to take place in Brussels later this month.

Firemen extinguish fire at the Oktyabrksy market caused by a shell hit during the shelling of Donetsk. (RIA Novosti/Irina Gerashchenko)

"Yes, indeed, in the past Kiev had already heated up tensions amid some large international events. This is the case, and now we are seriously concerned about the next repetition of such activity,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week.

At the United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told its members that he has noticed “frustration” with Kiev’s “flagrant violation and blunt ignorance of the Minsk agreements” among even those Western states that are “loyal to Kiev.” The UN Security Council members urged both sides in the Ukrainian conflict to exercise restraint and uphold the ceasefire last week.

The conflict erupted in April 2014 after Kiev sent troops to the Donetsk and Lugansk regions as local residents refused to recognize the coup-imposed authorities in the capital. According to the UN Human Rights Office, at least 6,116 people have been killed and 15,474 wounded during a year of fighting.