October 5, 2017 / 8:06 AM / 2 years ago

Czech Republic's likely next PM criticises EU sanctions on Russia

PRAGUE (Reuters) - European Union sanctions against Russia are ineffective and the Minsk agreement to end fighting in Ukraine is not working, the Czech Republic’s most likely next prime minister was quoted as saying on Thursday.

The leader of ANO party Andrej Babis signs books for a supporter during an election campaign rally in Prague, Czech Republic September 28, 2017. REUTERS/David W Cerny/Files

The EU first imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. France and Germany have also led efforts to broker an end to separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine through the Minsk agreement struck in 2015.

Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman whose ANO party has taken a double-digit poll lead ahead of an Oct. 20-21 election, told financial daily Hospodarske Noviny that Russia was the aggressor but that sanctions had not changed anything.

However, Babis stopped short of calls to scrap sanctions.

“Sanctions... have not forced Russia to leave Crimea. And the Minsk deal is not working. It is a question of what to do next,” Babis said.

The Czech Social Democrat-led government, in which ANO is a junior party, has supported the EU’s sanctions.

The 28-member EU has continued to maintain unity over the measures against Moscow despite reluctance in some European countries which have important trade ties with Russia.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has said sanctions harm both the EU and Russia but that he respected the bloc’s unity on the issue. Hungary has also promoted scrapping sanctions.

Babis, who has also been a critic of the euro zone, is likely to take a more active role in foreign policy if he becomes prime minister.

He told the newspaper that while foreign policy is mostly led by the Czech foreign ministry in the current government, he believed the prime minister should instead be out front.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Gareth Jones

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