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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras attend a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, April 8, 2015 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

To Divide the West, Putin Reaches Out to the EU’s Weakest Members

Friday, April 10, 2015

This week, the United States found itself in a brief and unusual diplomatic spat with its normally quiet NATO ally, the Czech Republic. The U.S. ambassador in Prague, Andrew Schapiro, criticized Czech President Milos Zeman for saying he would attend the May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow, which commemorates the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. The mainly ceremonial president’s announcement infuriated not only the U.S., but many Czechs, including Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, since it came despite the European Union’s ongoing sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Today, Zeman changed course, announcing that he would not be attending the ceremony in Moscow after all. But the controversy was far from an isolated gaffe.

Zeman is one of a number of EU leaders who have, to varying degrees, defied the consensus between Brussels and Washington that Russia must face consequences for its actions in Ukraine. With the cease-fire in Ukraine’s embattled east apparently holding, and with Russia’s economy adapting to Western sanctions and lower energy prices, Russian President Vladimir Putin is launching a diplomatic offensive with the intention to divide the EU, reaching out in particular to its newer and poorer members. The EU sanctions will expire on July 31 unless all 28 member states agree to renew them. Putin is doing everything in his power to prevent an extension. ...

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