(Adds further comment on Ukraine)
By Robert Muller
PRAGUE Aug 14 Slovakia's prime minister
criticized the European Union's sanctions against Russia over
Ukraine on Thursday, saying they would only threaten economic
growth in the 28-member bloc.
"Why should we jeopardize the EU economy that is beginning
to grow?" Robert Fico told a news conference.
"If there is a crisis situation, it should be solved by
other means than meaningless sanctions. Who profits from the EU
economy decreasing, Russia's economy having troubles and Ukraine
economically on its knees?"
Fico also questioned Ukraine's sanctions against Russia and
said Slovakia must be prepared for a potential disruption of
Russian natural gas supplies via Ukraine.
Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine on June 16 in a dispute
over unpaid bills but so far has continued to supply gas which
Ukraine sends on to Russia's other customers.
However, intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine between
Ukraine's forces and pro-Russian separatists and escalating
tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and the EU have raised
fears of a disruption of deliveries to Europe.
The Ukrainian parliament approved a law on Thursday to
impose sanctions on Russian companies and individuals supporting
and financing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine's government has already prepared a list of 172
citizens of Russia and other countries, and of 65 Russian
companies, including gas export giant Gazprom, on
which they could impose sanctions "for financing terrorism".
Fico said it was "strange" that Ukraine, after signing an
association agreement with the EU, was taking "unilateral steps
that ... threaten the individual economic interests of EU member
Europe takes about a third of its gas imports from Russia,
and about 40 percent of that amount flows through Ukraine and
into the west via Slovakia.
When asked about potential disruptions, during a meeting
with representatives of main Slovak gas companies, SPP and
Eustream, Fico said, "We must be prepared that such a situation
can actually come about."
The European Union in July published a law that will curb
arms sales to Russia and cut off financing for five major
Russian banks over Moscow's support for rebels in Ukraine.
In response, Moscow banned imports of most food from the
West, a stronger-than-expected measure that isolates Russian
consumers from world trade to a degree unseen since Soviet days.
Russian sanctions on the EU will hit as Europe's economic
recovery is already slowing. Euro zone economic growth ground to
a halt in the second quarter, and Germany's economy unexpectedly
shrank, data showed on Thursday.
(Editing by Michael Kahn/William Hardy/Susan Fenton)