BERLIN, July 27 (Reuters) - Germans must put peace before economic considerations and accept tougher sanctions against Russia if necessary, Germany’s finance minister told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.
The European Union reached an outline agreement on Friday to impose the first economic sanctions on Moscow following the crash of a Malaysian airliner and the deaths of 298 people onboard in an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists.
Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, sold about 36 billion euros of goods to Russia last year, or almost one-third of the EU’s total.
German exports to Russia dropped by 14 percent in the first four months of this year and some business groups have warned that the decline in trade endangers some 25,000 jobs in Germany.
“Economic interests are not the top priority. The top priority is ensuring stability and peace,” Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
If German ministers were to warn against sanctions because of the potential damage to the German economy, then Chancellor Angela Merkel would have the wrong ministers, he said.
“An erosion of peace and stability would, by the way, be the biggest danger to economic developments,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could see the rouble was losing value and Russia’s budget deficit was climbing as a result of previously agreed EU asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russian officials, Schaeuble said.
A poll in Der Spiegel magazine showed that 52 percent of Germans supported tougher sanctions, even if it meant that German jobs would be at risk. Some 39 percent were against.
The EU had already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on some Russian officials after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and in response to its support for separatists fighting Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
The United States and other Western countries have said they believe the Russian-backed separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 on July 17 with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile, probably by mistake.
The separatists deny their involvement, and Russia says it has not provided heavy weaponry to the rebels. (Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Lynne O‘Donnell)