'Overwhelming majority' of EU countries against Ukraine sanctions

25.01.14 @ 14:18

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - An “overwhelming majority” of EU countries believe the time is not right to talk of sanctions on Ukraine.

  • European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso (r), met Ukrainian pop star and opposition activist Ruslana in Brussels last Monday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Lithuania was the only one who said the EU foreign service should draft a list of potential sanctions at a meeting of the bloc’s Political and Security Committee in Brussels on Thursday (23 January).

The rest followed Germany’s line that EU diplomacy should concentrate on stopping violence instead.

“The overall assessment is that at this stage precedence should be given to diplomatic engagement,” one EU contact noted.

“There was overwhelming support for engagement. The situation is not black and white. It’s very complex and we have to take things forward in a way to end violence, so that no more people are killed,” the EU diplomat added.

The source said that Ukraine is split between western Ukraine, where there is greater support for the opposition, and eastern Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych’s heartland, where he still has support.

“The solution must meet the aspirations of all the people,” the contact noted.

The internal EU debate comes amid renewed threats by Yanukovych’s security chiefs to use force.

"The events of the last days in the Ukrainian capital have shown that our attempts to solve the conflict peacefully, without recourse to a confrontation of force, remain futile," interior ministry Vitaliy Zakharchenko said in a statement on Saturday.

Zakharchenko directly controls Ukraine’s special police units and gendarmes and has the authority to issue them with firearms.

Mark Galeotti, a US expert on security in former Soviet countries, told this website that if he does, the confrontation could easily spiral.

“In the heat of the moment, if an armed policeman is facing molotov cocktails, people equipped with weapons, they might use live ammunition,” he said.

Zakharchenko's statement comes after opposition activists occupied municipal buildings in towns in western Ukraine, highlighting the country's divisions.

It also comes amid EU commissioner Stefan Fuele’s meetings with Yanukovych and with people at the protest camp, or Euromaidan, in central Kiev on Friday and Saturday.

Fuele said in a communique on Saturday: “I have discussed a series of steps to this end, that could lead to confidence building and to a political process aimed at ending this crisis.”

His officials decline to say what the “steps” might be.

But Fuele noted that EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton will also visit Kiev next week to show that: ”The EU would remain engaged in this process assisting them in de-escalating the situation.”

In wider diplomacy, top EU officials will discuss the Ukraine crisis at a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Brussels on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azaraov, a hardline Yanukovych supporter, has tried to defend the regime’s actions at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

But, in a sign of international opprobrium following the murders of up to six opposition activists last week, Davos organisers refused to let him enter the congress venue.

He told the FT in an interview at his hotel that outside “provocateurs” carried out the killings.

He also blamed a hardcore of 1,500 or so “ultra-nationalists, xenophobes and anti-Semites” in Kiev for causing last week’s clashes with Zakharchenko's riot police, or Berkut.

Correction: The original story said Poland and Sweden also spoke in support of sanctions at the Political and Security Committee meeting. In fact, Lithuania was the only one. Sincere apologies