With European Union governments divided, a decision on whether to tighten economic sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict is likely to be left to EU leaders, who next meet in mid-December, diplomats said on Thursday (13 November).
EU foreign ministers will discuss Ukraine at a meeting in Brussels on Monday, the first chaired by the EU’s new foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
But no decisions on ratcheting up economic sanctions on Russia are expected despite the deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine.
The United States warned Russia on Thursday that the West might punish it further for its “military escalation” of the crisis, as Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of truce violations in a conflict that has killed more than 4,000 people.
But EU ministers, at most, may order officials to draw up names of eastern Ukraine separatists, and possibly some Russians, who would be added to an existing list of officials under EU travel bans and asset freezes, EU diplomats said.
About six of the EU’s 28 governments are pushing the bloc to consider taking new economic measures, on top of the financial, energy and defence sanctions already imposed. But some other EU governments oppose such a step, the diplomats said.
A decision on whether or not to step up economic sanctions is therefore likely to be left for EU leaders who next meet in Brussels on 18 and 19 December, diplomats said, although one source did not rule out calls for a special summit if the situation in Ukraine deteriorated
That was backed up by a discussion paper, seen by Reuters, circulated to EU member states by the EU’s diplomatic service before Monday’s meeting.
The paper said foreign ministers would be asked for their views about the different options on further economic sanctions and about the role they could play to prepare for “an eventual discussion” of the issue by EU leaders.
EU governments would also discuss whether more pro-Russian separatists should be added to the sanctions list “keeping in mind that the main separatist leaders are already listed … and the fact that the targeted separatists could be at some point agents in the implementation of the peace plan”.
In a speech in Latvia on Thursday, Mogherini set out a three-pronged EU strategy, including economic pressure, keeping political channels open, and support for Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.
Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.
The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU's resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.
Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.
On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.
The West adopted sanctions against Russia and Moscow retaliated by banning the import of Western food. A truce was declared on 5 September, but the situation on the ground has remained volatile.
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