The fate of anti-Russian sanctions, hopes for a Syrian diplomatic breakthrough and publication of investigative reports on the crash of Flight MH17 in Ukraine.

A man rides his bicycle past the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, in this December 15, 2014. Photo: Reuters

The major Russian foreign policy news last week included new developments for anti-Russian sanctions, talks on settling the Syrian crisis, and publication of investigative reports as to the reasons behind the crash of Flight MH17 in Ukraine.

Erosion of anti-Russian sanctions regime in the EU

Last week, debates resumed on the long-term effects of anti-Russian economic sanctions. On Oct. 13, in response to a question posed by a representative of Siemens at an investment forum in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out that German companies will have limited possibilities to participate in major infrastructure projects in Russia (especially work on the new Moscow-Kazan railroad) as the current sanctions make it impossible to obtain credit resources.

 Also read: "Top 10 Russian foreign policy moves in September, ranked." 

“If participants of such projects will be limited in their access to European funding, then we will not have many options. And under such circumstances, the offers of our Chinese partners to participate in the funding can become crucial,” said Mr. Putin. 

A few days before this, for the first time since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, several sanctions against Russia were lifted. On Oct. 9, the EU excluded rocket fuel from the list of prohibited goods in its trading with Russia. These substances are required to power Russian rocket engines that deliver European satellites for various EU space programs.

This was a tentative step towards the normalization of economic relations, designed to test the response of various forces within Europe and in the United States. It was especially significant that on Oct. 8, Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, publically stated that the EU needed to normalize relations with Russia: “We must make efforts towards a practical relationship with Russia. It is not sexy, but that must be the case, we cannot go on like this,” he said at an event in the southern German city of Passau. He added: “We cannot have our relations with Russia be dictated by Washington.”

Could Russia and the West cooperate in the fight against ISIS?

Russia’s military campaign against ISIS has strengthened Moscow’s influence with the Syrian government. Russia is planning to use this influence to start a dialogue between the Syrian authorities and opposition groups. However, Washington has rejected all of Moscow’s proposals for consultations with the United States on this matter.

The Americans continue to insist on the removal of Assad as a pre-condition for cooperation against ISIS, and are wary of Russia strengthening its position in the Middle East. Responding to these concerns, on Oct. 13, President Vladimir Putin again called for cooperation, saying: “We are not seeking some type of leadership role in Syria.”

Against this background, on Oct. 14, after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that Russia and Iran could play a key role in resolving the Syrian crisis. In the EU, they are beginning to form the view that any peace process in Syria must also include the current government headed by Assad. Thus, the positions of Brussels and Moscow on this issue are coming closer.    

Investigative reports on MH17

On Oct. 12, the Russian company Almaz-Antey, manufacturer of rocket weapons, presented its report on the causes leading to the crash of the Malaysian Boeing 777 from the skies over Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The following day, the committee of the Security Council of the Netherlands proposed its own version as to the sequence of events.

The Russian report almost directly refers to the type of likely anti-aircraft missile complex that was used, and the location of its launch site. On the basis of several conducted experiments, Russian experts showed that the missile was fired from territory, which at the time was controlled by Ukrainian military forces.

In the report of the Netherlands, the possible location of the missile launch site is defined very broadly – it names an area of about 320 square kilometers (200 square miles) in eastern Ukraine. From this it can be concluded that the anti-aircraft missile could have been launched both from the territory that was controlled by the separatist militias, and from the territory that was controlled by Ukrainian Army.

The Russian company had invited Dutch experts to monitor the experiments simulating the conditions under which the Malaysian airliner was destroyed. However, this invitation was refused. At the same time, the data provided by the Russian company, was heavily distorted in the Dutch report, said the representatives of Almaz-Antey.

Insisting on the correctness of its version, Moscow has appealed to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to intervene in this investigation. Moreover, Russia is planning to use the provisions contained in the Convention on International Civil Aviation and initiate a resumption of the investigation into the reasons for the Boeing 777 disaster in Ukraine.

The alleged shooting down of this aircraft over the territory of Ukraine led sanctions being imposed against Russia, which had been adopted without a preliminary inquiry or investigative actions.

The opinion of the authors may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.