Economically Weakened, Russia Turns to Soft Power to Meddle in Europe

Economically Weakened, Russia Turns to Soft Power to Meddle in Europe
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin, Athens, Greece, May 27, 2016 (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris).

Last Friday, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic made an unannounced visit to Moscow. The trip came amid reports of Russian concern with Serbia’s overtures to the West, including taking steps toward joining the European Union.

Later that day, Russian President Vladimir Putin headed to Greece, where he discussed energy cooperation and investment with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, before visiting the male-only Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mount Athos with the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church. The trip was Putin’s first to an EU country this year, as the debate heats up in Brussels over renewing EU sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea anddestabilization of Ukraine.

Sanctions, which are due to expire in July, have put a huge economic burden on Russia, along with the fall in global energy prices. But sanctions have also hurt many European economies, and there are a growing number of voices in Europe against renewing them. The lower house of the French Parliament voted to lift the sanctions, and the German foreign minister said he believes in easing them, provided certain conditions are met. Those conditions include the full implementation of the Minsk cease-fire that was struck in February 2015 and aimed to stop the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists continue to battle government forces.

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