International

EU could hold emergency summit to agree new Russia sanctions

UK Secretariat of State for Foreing and Commenwealth Affairs William Hague talks to the press prior a Foreign Affairs Council on April 14,2014 at the EU Headquarters at the Kirchberg Conference Centre in Luxembourg. (AFP PHOTO / GEORGES GOBET)

LUXEMBOURG: The European Union could hold an emergency summit next week to impose further sanctions against Russia if there is no breakthrough at talks with Ukraine in Geneva Thursday, France’s foreign minister said Monday.

At a meeting in Luxembourg, several EU foreign ministers threatened Moscow with new sanctions over its actions in eastern Ukraine, although some said diplomacy should be given time before firm decisions are taken.

France’s Laurent Fabius said he hoped “fundamental questions” about Ukraine would be tackled at Thursday’s meeting involving Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the EU.

“If it is necessary, there may be a meeting of heads of state and government next week at European level, which may adopt new sanctions,” he told reporters.

“The goal is to show firmness while keeping a dialogue open,” Fabius said.

Ukraine dominated Monday’s talks among EU foreign ministers after Kiev threatened military action against pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in the east.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, arriving for the meeting in Luxembourg, said there could be no doubt that Moscow was behind the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.

“I don’t think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility,” Hague told reporters, adding that the EU now needed to discuss adding more people to a list of 33 Russian and Ukrainian officials targeted by EU asset freezes and travel bans over the Ukraine crisis.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the EU must now agree how the list could be expanded.

“The EU has to make it clear to Russia what are the consequences of any possible future actions in eastern Ukraine,” he said. 

“I expect a very specific signal when we can expect sanctions if Russia takes further steps.”

But other governments were more cautious on sanctions, underscoring concerns in parts of Europe about antagonizing a power with an energy stranglehold over the bloc, and put their faith in Thursday’s talks.

Germany said the Geneva meeting could help calm tensions even though the option of sanctions remained on the table.

In addition to widening asset freezes and visa bans, the EU is discussing more far-reaching measures, like restrictions on trade and finance with Russia, which Hague said should be prepared quickly.

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, said sanctions wouldn’t “resolve the problem.”

“Our main task today is to do everything so that this conference Thursday in Geneva can take place and take place in a calm atmosphere,” he said.

The ministers agreed some steps to help Ukraine overcome its deepening economic crisis, approving a package of nearly 500 million euros ($685 million) worth of trade benefits, which include the removal of duties on a wide range of agricultural goods, textiles and other imports.

Four Ukrainians were also added to a list of people targeted with EU sanctions over misappropriation of state funds.

Under discussion Monday was also a possible EU mission to train police and other law-enforcement officials in Ukraine to help stabilize the country, as proposed by Britain, Sweden and Poland, and supported by Germany.

Such a mission – likely to irritate Russia – would seek to rebuild Ukraine’s police and legal system in the short term to help combat violence in the country of 46 million people and lay the groundwork for implementing a proposed free-trade deal with the European Union.

The bloc will also discuss its approach to issuing visas and trade with the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in March after popular protests toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev.

“It is important to show that there won’t be a recognition of the annexation through the back door,” said one diplomat.

 

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