PRAGUE, Aug 18 (Reuters) - The European Union should stick to targeted sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis despite Moscow responding with sanctions that are hurting Europe’s economy, the Czech foreign minister said on Thursday.
EU unity on the matter showed signs of fraying after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last Friday that the 28-nation bloc had “shot itself in the foot” and that the sanctions policy should be reconsidered.
His comments came a day after Slovak counterpart Robert Fico criticised the sanctions as “meaningless”, saying they would threaten economic growth in the EU.
“I can hardly imagine what alternatives we had,” Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said after meeting Czech business officials.
“I feel we should stand by that and it is not difficult to say why have done it,” he said. Zaoralek mentioned Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March as well as the shooting down in July of a Malaysian airliner over Ukrainian territory where pro-Russian separatists and government forces are fighting.
Slovakia and Hungary have important economic and energy ties with Russia and have been critical of EU sanctions in the past.
The Czechs, too, are starting to count the impacts on its exporters and some Prague officials have criticised the sanctions, including Finance Minister Andrej Babis.
“(The sanctions) brought nothing, they will bring nothing and meanwhile the conflict escalates. Putin’s popularity grows, it spurs nationalistic upheaval in Russia and that is bad,” Babis told Pravo newspaper in an interview last weekend. (Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)