• EU countries' ambassadors will meet in Brussels on Sunday as the result of the Crimea vote is published (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU undecided on Russia sanctions ahead of Crimea vote

14.03.14 @ 20:15

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU has appealed for European unity ahead of Sunday’s (16 March) “referendum” in Crimea.

Kostyantin Yeliseyev told EUobserver on Friday that all 28 EU countries must put pressure on Moscow to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

“Russia is continuing to escalate the situation because there is not 100 percent unity in the EU. The European Union has real leverage on Russia, but some member states are hesitating to take action,” he said.

“My dear friends: It is high time to stop thinking of your trade and energy interests and to stand up for European values. What we are talking about here is no less than peace and stability in Europe - today it is Ukraine, but tomorrow it could be somewhere else.”

Yeliseyev spoke after a high-level US-Russia meeting in London ended with no agreement.

He also spoke amid ongoing EU talks on targeted sanctions against Russia.

Member states have agreed to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russians guilty of violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but not who to designate or when to impose the measures.

Diplomatic contacts say the draft EU blacklist contains about 100 names - a mixed bag of Kremlin officials, politicians, military chiefs, and oligarchs.

The majority of EU countries, including France, Germany, and the UK, want to impose a long list at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday.

But Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, and Spain want to blacklist fewer people and to take the decision in light of Sunday’s events.

“Some countries want to go very far at this stage, and others to give more room to diplomacy as much as we can. If we go too far, we won’t have anybody to talk to because Russia might close all its doors,” a Spanish diplomat said.

“Let’s wait until Sunday and see what the reaction is after that,” the Spanish contact added.

What Russia is calling the “referendum” will ask Crimea's 2 million people if they want to split from Ukraine and join Russia or split from Ukraine and become semi-autonomous.

About 60 percent of Crimeans are ethnic Russians, some of whom might vote to join Russia in a free and a fair poll.

But the vote is being held in violation of the Ukrainian constitution.

It is also being held with no international observers, in a blackout on independent media and in a climate of fear.

Heavily armed Russian soldiers and pro-Russian paramilitaries have seized control of Crimean cities and transport infrastructure. Masked men, believed by Ukrainian authorities to be from organised crime groups in Chechnya, have kidnapped journalists and pro-Ukrainian activists.

Russia has also massed forces on Ukraine’s eastern border, prompting concern of a mass-scale invasion.

For his part, Yeliseyev said Sunday’s result is a foregone conclusion.

“At this stage, they are just wondering which numbers to publish, should it be 75 percent [of people who want to join Russia] or 85 percent? Let’s be under no illusion how this works,” he said.

A senior EU diplomat described two scenarios.

One is that Russia recognises the result of the referendum, but de-escalates by agreeing to bilateral or multilateral talks with Ukraine on the future of Crimea.

The second one is a “war scenario.”

“What we could see is an even larger provocation of Ukrainian armed forces by Russian incursions across Ukraine’s eastern border. It’s very difficult to say how this will play out,” the EU diplomat said.

Ukraine’s Yeliseyev noted: “We are not using armed resistance because this is precisely the goal of the Russian authorities - to provoke a confrontation, just as they did in Georgia in 2008.”

“But we are very concerned by the amount of Russian forces on our eastern borders and if Russia violates these borders, Ukraine will be forced to defend itself,” he added.