Lavrov plays down impact of Western sanctions on Russia

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 30, 2014 8:41 AM

By Alexei Anishchuk

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Western sanctions on Russia have led to some disruption but have not been too painful, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday ahead of talks later in the day with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry.

The United States and the European Union have imposed two rounds of sanctions on Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes for some of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, to punish Moscow for what Western states say is the illegal seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region.

"I don't want to say that sanctions are ridiculous and that we couldn't care less, these are not pleasant things," Lavrov told Russia's Channel One.

"We find little joy in that, but there are no painful sensations. We have lived through tougher times."

Lavrov said Western powers have put unofficial restrictions in place, urging their diplomats in Moscow to boycott meetings attended by Russian officials and lawmakers on the sanctions list.

He said Russian diplomats stationed in European Union capitals had also been refused meetings with officials from EU foreign ministries.

"Diplomacy is the art of talking and making agreements," Lavrov said. "If diplomats are motivated to become instruments of the sanctions policy, then it's a totally different story."

Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a March 16 referendum dismissed as a sham by Western governments that say it violated Ukraine's constitution and was held only after Russian forces seized control of the Black Sea peninsula.

The West has threatened tougher sanctions targeting Russia's stuttering economy if Moscow sends more troops to Ukraine.

Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Kerry are to meet in Paris on Sunday as both sides move to ease tensions in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

The meeting follows a phone call between Putin and President Barack Obama on Friday, the first known direct conversation between the two since Washington and its European allies imposed sanctions.

Russia has drawn up counter-sanctions, barring senior U.S. officials from entering Russia. On Friday Moscow said it had retaliated against expanded Western sanctions but did not name any U.S. or European Union officials affected.

(Reporting By Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Rosalind Russell)