Britain yesterday called for “further” EU sanctions against Russia in response to its “dangerous” escalation of the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
“I will be arguing today that further sanctions have to be the response to Russia’s behavior,” British Secretary of Foreign Affairs William Hague said as he arrived for a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
“There do have to be consequences,” Hague said, adding that the events of the last 48 hours are “clearly a further escalation of the crisis ... and clearly a very dangerous one.”
He said there could be no “doubt that this has been planned and brought about by Russia,” adding that Russian denials of involvement “do not have a shred of credibility.”
Moscow’s actions, similar to how it had orchestrated Crimea’s move to join Russia, meant it was time to discuss additional sanctions to asset freezes and travel bans already imposed on leading business and political figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.
Other EU foreign ministers appeared reluctant to toughen reprisals against Russia by agreeing to move to a next stage of economic sanctions.
“With sanctions, we are not going to solve the problem,” Luxembourg Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn said, adding that everything must be done to ensure the success of EU-US mediated talks on Thursday in Geneva between Russia and Ukraine.
Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans said it was “too early” to discuss fresh sanctions, but warned that the EU had to be prepared to take the next step if Russia showed no sign of backing off.
Meanwhile, the EU formally approved a 1 billion euro (US$1.4 billion) assistance package to help Ukraine’s interim authorities overcome the country’s deep financial problems.
In a further move to revive the Ukrainian economy, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg also signed off on a plan to lower customs duties on Ukrainian goods that could save the country almost 500 million euros a year.
The ministers also added four people to a list of 18 Ukrainians subject to an EU visa ban and asset freeze since March 5 for misappropriating Ukrainian state funds.
The EU medium-term loan is aimed at helping Ukraine cover its balance-of-payments needs and comes in addition to 610 million euros of aid that has been approved, but not yet disbursed.
The cut in trade tariffs for Ukrainian imports until Nov. 1 is a one-sided measure that will not affect duties on exports to Ukraine from the 28-nation bloc.
It is a first stage in a free-trade pact due to be signed by Brussels with Kiev later this year that was linked to the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement that former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign in November last year, triggering the protests that led to his ouster.
Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine pro-Kremlin militias continued in control of many government buildings in defiance of a Kiev ultimatum to leave or face the consequences.