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Trump-Led Thaw Between Russia, US to Undermine EU Unanimity Over Sanctions

© AP Photo / Virginia MayoEU flags flutter in the wind in back of a no entry street sign in front of EU headquarters in Brussels on Friday, June 24, 2016.
EU flags flutter in the wind in back of a no entry street sign in front of EU headquarters in Brussels on Friday, June 24, 2016. - Sputnik International
United States President-elect Donald Trump said he would consider the possibility of lifting anti-Russian sanctions, but provided no further details.

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At the same time, Morgan Stanley estimated a 35 percent chance of Washington lifting sanctions against Moscow in the coming two years.

According to the bank, Trump’s presidency will result in easing sanctions against Russian companies and individuals. Meanwhile, the European Union is now concerned over a possible thaw between Russia and the US because this will create obstacles for Brussels’ policy of sanctions.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly said he wanted to normalize ties with Russia. After the election, he confirmed he wants a "good relationship" with Moscow.

Russian markets reacted to Trump’s victory more positively than other global stocks, on expectations of an improvement in bilateral economic ties between Russia and the US.

"Clearly the chances of sanctions being lifted on Russia have risen substantially. That would improve the investment climate for Russia," Charles Robertson, Renaissance Capital's global chief economist, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

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However, it is now unclear what Trump and his administration will do to revive Russia-US relations. But Brussels diplomats told Reuters that normalization between Moscow and Washington will be problematic for the EU.

The current European sanctions will be in place until late-January 2017. European diplomats expect that the European Council is likely to prolong the economic sanctions against Russia in December. However, if Trump manages to normalize Russia-US ties it would be more difficult to Brussels to extend sanctions in the future.

"The roll-over in December should still happen. There is no change on the ground in Ukraine… there is really no argument not to extend them," a European diplomat told Reuters. "But then, after Trump's inauguration, who knows where he takes us. It may become way more difficult."

Another European diplomat told Financial Times that Germany and France will insist on keeping sanctions in place beyond December if "Russia makes no moves to implement the Minsk agreement."

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At the same time, the source told Reuters that recently the effectiveness of sanctions have been questioned by such EU members as Italy, Hungary, Greece and Cyprus, all of which have close economic ties with Russia. Their discontent has been increasingly mounting since sanctions have seriously damaged their trade and economy.

It cannot be ruled out that sanctions will be lifted earlier, in mid-2017, another source in Brussels suggested.

The decision requires unanimity among the 28 EU country members. The bloc fears that if Washington indicates their intention of warming relations with Russia this could undermine the EU’s unanimity.

"After Trump is inaugurated in January, if there really is a rapprochement with Putin, it would deepen divisions within the EU on Russia and would make keeping sanctions in place more difficult," a diplomat in Brussels said.

Nevertheless, many critics insist that this is all about rhetoric and there will be no significant changes to Russia-US relations, particularly due to the hardline stance towards Moscow by certain Republicans in Congress.

A journalist writes a material as she watches a live telecast of the U.S. presidential election standing at portraits of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Union Jack pub in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 - Sputnik International
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"Even assuming Trump reaches out to Putin, what do they really stand to gain? He's a very difficult partner, it's hard to get anything back from him. And the Republicans are very pragmatic. We'll have to see, but there is a chance that for all the talk there won't be such a massive shift in real policy," another diplomat said.

In turn, the Kremlin has already indicated that the Russian president wants normalization with Washington and his stance on the issue is flexible.

International experts agree that Brussels’ concerns have grounds. Trump’s actions towards Europe will be different from those by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush, said Arnaud Dubien, head of French-Russian Analytical Center "Observo."

"There are questions emerging about Washington’s traditional allies and alliances, NATO and Europe. Will the previous agreement stay in effect?" Dubien told RIA Novosti.

He underscored that at the European level Trump’s victory poses a question on the continuation of the US’s policy on a range of problems, including Russia and Ukraine.

In the context of the US election, the issue of keeping anti-Russian sanctions in place will be extremely important for Brussels, Dubien suggested. Brexit has already decreased the number of those supporting sanctions. Trump’s victory will be a new blow to European "hawks."

The expert did not rule out that German Chancellor Angela Merkel "may be in isolation" over the issue of anti-Russian sanctions.

"Berlin will be hard-pressed to maintain European unity on sanctions against Russia if the United States backs away from its own," an article in Washington Post read.

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