PARIS—French President Francois Hollande is calling for sanctions on Russia to be lifted if there is progress in Ukraine.
During a two-hour radio interview, Hollande said sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States had not only hit Russia hard, but were also hurting the European economy. But there must be no new sanctions – and those in place should be lifted if there is progress on Ukraine, he added.
There will be an opportunity for that next week, when Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko and Russia’s Putin are scheduled to hold talks in Kazakhstan. Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been invited to join them at the meeting, to be held January 15 in Astana.
Hollande held out the possibility of attending, striking an optimistic note about the talks.
“I will go to Astana on the 15th of January on one condition, which is that there should be a possibility of making new progress. If it’s just to meet and talk without making any actual advances then there’s no point. But I think there will be progress,” said Hollande.
Merkel’s office was less committed.
“Such a meeting only makes sense if we can make real progress,” said Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert Monday.
Sanctions against Russia were imposed last year over Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its support of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine. But today, European countries are raising concerns about the effect of the standoff on their own economies. France, for example, has suspended the sale of two warships to Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
Hollande spoke during a wide-ranging interview that touched on France’s sluggish economy, the Middle East crisis and climate change.
He also tackled another key European issue – Greece.
Hollande said it was up to the Greeks to choose whether they wanted to remain in the eurozone. But he said Athens must respect its European commitments.
Whether Greece remains in the euro currency union might be decided during elections later this month. The euro-skeptic, far-left Syriza Party, is leading in Greek public opinion polls.
A few years back, financial turmoil in Greece sparked fears of the eurozone’s collapse. But today, the eurozone is on sounder footing. Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Europe’s most powerful country, reportedly said Greece’s departure from the euro union would be manageable. Later, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the German government wants Greece to stay in the eurozone and that there were no contingency plans to the contrary.