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The Polish Case For Tougher Russia Sanctions


European foreign ministers met in Brussels today and agreed to expand the list of Russian individuals and entities targeted for destabilizing Ukraine. They're also preparing a list of other options including limits on dual technology sales and measures targeting the financial and energy sectors. One vocal advocate of tougher sanctions is Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister of Poland. Poland buys natural gas from Russia, and he told me that a better European energy policy can drive down the price that Europeans pay for that gas. Sikorsky called today a day in which the mood shifted in Europe. And I asked the Polish foreign minister why this event - the downing of Flight 17 - has changed the EU's view of the role of Russia in Ukraine.

RADEK SIKORSKI: Because it's the result of a long train of events and of Russia supplying increasing amounts of increasingly sophisticated weapons to separatists who are actually commanded by Russian citizens. It was the breaching of a red line that we, as Europeans, set down three weeks ago.

SIEGEL: Have Europeans learned enough about this so far to feel confident in that conclusion without waiting for the results of an international investigation into the downing?

SIKORSKI: What would clinch it would, of course, be a fragment of the missile in the wreckage with the serial number that could be traced to the stocks of a particular country. That's why everybody's so concerned about the evidence and the wreckage being tampered with by the people who did this act. But without even this evidence, I think most people are perfectly clear about what happened.

SIEGEL: Is there some sense there in Brussels that if there is a costly package of sanctions against Russia that somehow the burden should be shared community-wide rather than borne individually by nations?

SIKORSKI: Yes, it's true that Europe depends on trade with Russia much more than the United States. And, in fact, the closer you are to Russia, like ourselves, the bigger the proportion of trade with Russia in our overall trade relationships. The thing about sanctions is that they always cost. But today there was a strong stance in Europe that we have to draw the line somewhere, and what happened in eastern Ukraine last week may not be allowed to continue. And we need to speak in the language that the Russian authorities will take seriously.

SIEGEL: You were surreptitiously recorded not too long ago saying that U.S.-Polish ties were worthless - you said at that moment. What is it that the U.S. might be doing in this, either on behalf of Poland or Europe, that Washington isn't doing?

SIKORSKI: Well, thank you for mentioning an illegally taped private conversation. But it's true that we've been asking American friends and allies to increase the support for our region because we do feel exposed. You know, there are major bases in Britain, in Spain, in Germany, in Italy, in Turkey - in all the countries that feel secure. And there is a reluctance to reinforce us.

SIEGEL: So you would want to see NATO go beyond or the U.S. and Britain, say, go beyond just rotating units through the Baltic Republics to have bases is what you're saying?

SIKORSKI: Our sentiments come from the fact that we want more of America in our region, not less.

SIEGEL: Just one important question always arises with sanctions which is what are the conditions that would lead to the lifting of the sanctions? That is, what would either Russia do or what would separatists in eastern Ukraine have to do for the sanctions that are now being applied to be removed?

SIKORSKI: That's a fair point because sanctions are not an end in themselves. Sanctions are political instruments meant to affect behavior. Russians do cooperate with the investigation to turn to the judicial authorities any suspects and, above all, to stop the core problem, namely the supply of weapons, money and other resources to the separatists who are trying to destabilize Ukraine. Russia really has to get used to the fact that the former Republics of the Soviet Union really are independent states, and their borders are internationally recognized borders which may not be changed by force.

SIEGEL: Radek Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland. Thank you very much for talking with us.

SIKORSKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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