Slovak President Kiska: EU Must Stand United on Russia

EU Must Be Ready to Extend Trade Barriers and Visa Bans if Kremlin Fails to End Ukraine Crisis
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia—Slovakia’s president urged other European Union nations to stand firm on economic sanctions against Russia unless the Kremlin takes active steps to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The 28-nation bloc must be ready to extend the trade barriers and visa bans for Kremlin insiders when restrictions expire between March and July, Andrej Kiska said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

“Without Russia’s support this conflict in Ukraine would never have even started and therefore it’s our duty as democratic nations to make our stance clear,” Mr. Kiska said. “I’ll certainly support keeping the sanctions in place until the situation in Ukraine improves.”

Artillery exchanges between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed rebels have escalated after the latest cease-fire talks broke down at the end of January. Kiev has accused Moscow of supplying weapons to the separatists in shipments disguised as humanitarian aid, which has led to fresh attacks against the Ukrainian army. Moscow has repeatedly denied being directly involved in the conflict.

Mr. Kiska called for a united front against Russia within the EU, where some countries are more accommodating than others toward the Kremlin because of a combination of factors including geographical proximity, historical and business ties.

“Regarding our position toward Russia, it’s extremely important that the EU adheres to a single opinion so that Russia can’t exploit any divisions within the union to break our internal unity,” Mr. Kiska said.

A businessman-turned-philanthropist, who once lived in the U.S., Mr. Kiska is a political freshman without party affiliation. Last year he won, beating Robert Fico, the present prime minister. In Slovakia, presidential powers are limited but the officeholder can have a policy influence on foreign and defense issues.

Since becoming the country’s head of state, 52-year-old Mr. Kiska has met his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko, having initiated their summit in the Slovak capital in November.Nevertheless, Slovakia and all other ex-communist countries in central Europe, must prevent Russian state-owned companies from gaining any further foothold in their economies to stop Moscow gaining leverage over the EU’s eastern states, he said.

“Russia has lost the most key aspect of politics—and that’s trust, because no one knows what’s going on in Putin’s head, no one knows where he has put his limits,” Mr. Kiska said, adding that he is “very concerned” by to be ready to use force to protect Russian interests against perceived threats from the West.

Mr. Kiska is forthright in his criticism of Russia’s foreign policy and takes a harder line than that of Prime Minister Fico, who is concerned about the impact of sanctions on the Slovak export-oriented economy, Mr. Kiska said however, there are few differences between him and the government on the Ukrainian situation.

“In this respect, I always aspire to make conclusions based on actual measures and not just statements,” Mr. Kiska said. “We’re helping Ukraine and that wouldn’t be possible without the government getting involved.”