Tillerson ready to question sanctions as Merckel and Hollande back extension

14/12/2016

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex TillersonTillerson: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande yesterday put their collective weight behind a six-month extension of the package of economic sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea nearly three years ago; but the long-term future of the strategy is looking increasingly uncertain in the light of Donald Trump’s choice of Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State. Tillerson has long been known to have a good personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to be sceptical about the efficacy of the sanction strategy and this week claims have also emerged in several US media outlets that he had visited the White House more than 20 times in an effort to ensure that his company was not put at a competitive disadvantage by the manner in which the sanctions were imposed. The oil chief was said to be concerned that European nations might not apply the restrictions as strictly as the US. 
Nord Stream2 pipesAlthough his friendship with Putin and his company’s commercial ties with Russia inevitably led to his appointment being met with horror and alarm on both sides of the Atlantic, he may have had a point within this narrower context. It took serious pressure from Brussels, for instance, to persuade several European companies including EON, BASF/Wintershall and BASF to pull out of the consortium they had set up with Gazprom to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany along the bed of the Baltic Sea, and now several other contractors – this time believed to include Switzerland’s Allseas Group, Italy’s Saipmen and France’s Technip – are said to be getting ready to help the Russian company with construction of the pipeline.
German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande Berlin 131216Precisely what effect another extension of sanctions will have on their ambitions remains to be seen, but Merkel and Hollande clearly intend to find out. “It will be necessary to extend sanctions on Russia once again,” Merkel told reporters on Tuesday, standing alongside Hollande as they met for talks in Berlin, two days before the EU’s 28 leaders meet in Brussels to formally discuss their next move. Progress on last year’s Minsk peace plan for eastern Ukraine had been slow, she continued, and “we would have wished that we were further along in implementing this process.”
“The Minsk agreement must be implemented,” Hollande added. “I support the extension of sanctions until there is progress, as does the chancellor.”
If the sanctions are extended tomorrow, the next time the matter comes up for discussion, there will be a team with a very different agenda ensconced in the White House.