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Brexit, Russia loom over ‘minefield’ European Union summit

  • Published at 09:43 pm December 15th, 2016
Brexit, Russia loom over ‘minefield’ European Union summit
European Union leaders grappled with Russia and Brexit at a “minefield” summit in Brussels on Thursday at the end of one of the most turbulent years in the bloc’s history. The 28 leaders are dealing with the migration crisis, sanctions against Moscow over the wars in Ukraine and Syria, and a troublesome pact with Kiev that the Netherlands threatens to veto. British Prime Minister Theresa May will later be left out in the cold while the other 27 have dinner without her in a bid to present a united front over how they handle Britain’s departure. May however dismissed any suggestion that it amounted to a snub and called for as “smooth and orderly a process as possible”.

‘Treading on a minefield’

The one-day summit, cut back from the usual two days, wraps up an ‘annus horribilis’ for the bloc that has seen it face a wave of eurosceptic populism including the shock Brexit referendum vote in June. The fate of civilians in Aleppo as Syrian and Russian forces drive out rebels is also on the agenda, although EU leaders will stop short of threatening any new sanctions against Moscow. The leaders will issue a statement that the EU “strongly condemns” the assault by the “Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia”, but will only say that “the EU is considering all available options,” according to a draft. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the leaders were not set to consider sanctions, insisting instead that the bloc would try to use its “influence” with Iran and Russia. Mogherini is also expected to push plans for increased European defence cooperation in the wake of Brexit and amid fears about US President-elect Donald Trump’s commitment to Nato allies.

Russia sanctions

Agreement will be easier on the EU’s stiff economic sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, which were imposed in 2014 after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will debrief leaders, after which “I expect that there will be a consensus” on a six-month rollover, a German government official said. The rollover is expected despite little appetite among some countries and worries that Trump is showing signs of a rapprochement with Vladimir Putin. The thorniest issue on Thursday could be Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s efforts to negotiate a way past a referendum in April in which his country voted against a key EU-Ukraine pact.