• Ashton is to urge Lavrov to pull back Russian troops (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU to expand Russia blacklist

15.04.14 @ 09:30

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries are to expand their Russia and Ukraine blacklists and to send a small team of security experts to Kiev.

The decision, by foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday (14 April), came after pro-Russian separatists seized local government buildings, erected barricades and beat up pro-Ukranian activists in nine cities in east and south Ukraine in recent days.

US and EU diplomats had previously said the heavily-armed separatists are Russian forces in disguise.

But the EU's Luxembourg communique was less black and white, referring instead to "actions undertaken by armed individuals”, after Finland vetoed a reference to Russia’s responsibility.

Despite the cautious language, ministers said they would add names to their existing list of 33 Russian and Ukrainian officials deemed guilty of violating Ukraine's territorial integrity.

They tasked EU diplomats to agree the names in the coming days.

Polish FM Radek Sikroski said the move would cover "entities" – Russian firms – while Ireland's Eamon Gilmore said it would cover extra "individuals as well as entities".

The ministers agreed to add four names to another blacklist of 18 Ukrainian officials. But this move is designed to help Ukraine claw back stolen state funds rather than to hold back Russia.

Meanwhile, ministers gave partial support to a joint British-Polish-Swedish proposal to send an EU police-training mission to Ukraine.

Sikorski said the mission "got the green light" and "will go in June". But the Luxembourg communique referred only to sending a small team of EU diplomats to Kiev in the next few days to prepare for "a possible … mission, with a view to a decision on further EU action at its next meeting".

Ireland's Gilmore added the mission will only be deployed "if it becomes necessary".

Looking ahead to a high-level meeting in Geneva on Thursday, the ministers also tasked EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton with delivering a far-reaching set of demands to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Ashton is to urge Russia to: "repudiate" the actions of the Ukraine separatists; voice "strong support" for Ukraine's territorial integrity; "call back its troops" from the Ukrainian border; and "immediately withdraw the mandate" of the Russian senate for a broader Ukraine invasion.

The ministers noted the European Commission has almost completed work on what the EU calls "tier three" sanctions – measures designed to hurt the Russian energy, financial, and arms sectors.

French FM Laurent Fabius said EU leaders might call a summit next week to implement the measures if the Geneva talks fail.

But Britain's William Hague indicated the EU is still undecided on what would trigger the step. "The situation can develop in many ways, so it [the trigger] is not laid down in any more detailed way," he told press.

He added that it is "very hard to believe" that Russia will come round to the EU's demands in Geneva given its recent actions.

His scepticism was borne out by a phone call between US leader Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin also on Monday.

The White House said: "The President emphasised that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized."

But the Kremlin noted in its statement on the call that the new wave of violence is "the result of the Kiev authorities' unwillingness and inability to take into account the interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population".

He met the same day in Moscow with Sergei Aksyonov – a former criminal who led the separatist movement in Crimea prior to its annexation by Russia – to formally appoint him as "acting governor" of the territory.