France and Germany ready to “play hardball” with Russia

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PARIS (Reuters) – The EU must stand up to Russia when it violates international standards, the foreign ministers of France and Germany said on Thursday, adding that a decision to impose sanctions for the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny did not end the dialogue.

France and Germany said on Wednesday they would propose European Union sanctions against Russian people after receiving no credible response from Moscow on the use of a nerve agent on Navalny.

Several Western governments have said that Russia, which has denied Navalny’s accusations that she was involved in his poisoning in August, must help with investigations or face consequences.

“Dialogue is not an excuse to buy time. We must be very clear: dialoguing with Russia does not mean doing it a service, ”French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a security conference in Bratislava.

“This does not mean giving up our ambition to build a peaceful continent. On the contrary, it means defending that ambition by asserting its steadfastness… and preparing to play hardball when necessary.

Speaking at the same conference, Le Drian’s German counterpart, Heiko Maas, echoed the comments.

We have to be able to play hard, but at the same time, we must never let the dialogue stop, ”Maas said, according to an English translation. “We need Russia to resolve the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Ukraine.”

EU foreign ministers are expected to give political support to the sanctions on Monday, but they are unlikely to be approved immediately, as legal texts must be prepared and approved by experts from the 27 EU states.

The decision and the speed with which the two main European powers agreed to advance sanctions suggested a tightening of the bloc’s diplomacy towards Moscow, which said on Wednesday it no longer considered “business as usual”. As possible with Berlin and Paris.

French President Emmanuel Macron has tried to reduce mistrust between Russia and the West since coming to power in 2017, in the hope of enlisting Russian help in solving the world’s most intractable crises.

However, his efforts for more dialogue have upset other European Union member states who say little has changed to merit a thaw in relations.

Report by John Irish and Matthieu Protard; Editing by John Stonestreet and Alison Williams

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