Tusk slams Moscow ‘appeasement’ as EU debates new sanctions on Russia

Council President Donald Tusk organises and chairs EU summits. [European Council]

Senior figures in the European Union brandished a threat of new sanctions against Russia over the weekend violence in eastern Ukraine, with one blasting what he called “appeasement” of Moscow. EU foreign ministers will convene for an emergency meeting on Thursday.

That remark on Twitter by Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who now chairs summits of EU leaders, used language recalling the eve of World War Two that conveyed both fierce condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticism of recent EU talk of easing sanctions against Moscow.

“Once again, appeasement encourages the aggressor to greater acts of violence. Time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions,” Tusk tweeted after a call with Ukraine’s president on a response to Saturday’s bloodshed in Mariupol.

The remark showed Tusk, who became president of the European Council last month, breaking with the backroom discretion of his Belgian predecessor and seeming to take sides in the internal EU debate about a potentially more conciliatory approach to Russia.

Tusk, a hawk on Russia while he was Polish premier, commented just as Latvia, which currently chairs EU councils, warned of new sanctions and called for an emergency foreign ministers’ meeting.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini later replied on Twitter: “I’m convening an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council next Thursday on #Ukraine #Mariupol”.

Criticised by hawks last week for drafting a paper on ways to improve relations with Russia, the Italian said violence “would inevitably lead to a further grave deterioration of relations between the EU and Russia”.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, who has been trying to revive a truce agreed in September at Minsk, was blunter: “Separatists attack on Mariupol breached Minsk agreements,” he tweeted. “Russia fully responsible to stop them, if not more isolation & sanctions to come.”

However, the 28 EU states have been divided over sanctions and it is unclear if there would be consensus for more. Tusk’s role is partly to steer such decisions by EU leaders.

Asked whether he likened “appeasement” of Russia to that of Nazi Germany, a spokesman said: “The tweet is a reaction to the latest serious escalation of fighting … The escalation regrettably shows that our policy has still not been effective in reaching its goal, i.e. a peaceful, political solution.

“The escalation also puts the last few weeks’ debate on possible re-engagement with Russia into perspective. The escalation will require a review of EU’s policy towards Russia. The tweet does not prejudge the outcome of such a review.”

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.

>> Read: Poroshenko says Russia invaded Ukraine

A truce was agreed on 5 September, but the situation has remained volatile.

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