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25th May 2019

EU not expected to impose tough sanctions on Russia

  • EU diplomat: 'at least there is a freeze in the escalation' (Photo: Christiaan Triebert)

EU countries are not expected to impose tough sanctions on Russia when leaders meet for an emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday (6 March).

The event comes after EU foreign ministers said on Monday the Union will “consider … targeted measures,” such as visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials, unless Moscow pulls back troops from Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

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Nato on Wednesday did suspend co-operation with Russia.

“We have suspended the planning for our first Nato-Russia joint mission. The maritime escort for the US ship Cape Ray, which will neutralise Syria’s chemical weapons … We have also decided that no staff-level civilian or military meetings with Russia will take place for now [and] we have put the entire range of Nato-Russia co-operation under review,” Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

Ukraine has also called on the EU to take firm steps.

“I call upon the strong, resolute and consolidated response of the European Union … against the atmosphere of impunity in which our strategic partner threatens the overall system of international law,” its EU ambassador, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, wrote in a letter, seen by EUobserver, to EU states this week.

For his part, US secretary of state John Kerry, told press that a meeting with his British, Ukrainian, and Russian counterparts in Paris on Wednesday was better than no talks at all, but did not lead to a breakthrough.

“This is hard, tough stuff and a very serious moment, but I’d rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday,” he said.

He added that Germany, France, and the UK, remain “very serious” about the threat of punitive measures: “There’s been no movement away from the possibility.”

But EU diplomats say Germany and Italy are opposed to taking strong action in order not to aggravate the situation, while France is giving credence to some positive statements by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris.

“France some saw positive things in the Paris talks: Lavrov appeared to accept the idea of creating a contact group [on the crisis], even though it is not yet clear with whom or when. And while there is no de-escalation, at least there is a freeze in the escalation,” one EU contact said.

“The situation is complicated. Some countries think sanctions are not the way to encourage talks. Even Poland is wary of freezing the visa-free dialogue,” the source added.

Another EU diplomat noted that Sweden and Baltic states are among the most hawkish.

But Greece, a traditional Russian ally, has said openly it is opposed to taking action, which requires a consensus of all 28 EU members. “Sanctions are unfortunately always double-edged, with repercussions for those who suffer them, but also for those who impose them … We don’t want sanctions,” Greek foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos told press on Wednesday.

The EU on Thursday morning imposed an asset freeze on 18 former Ukrainian regime members, however.

The list includes: Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych and his two sons; the former PM and his son; the president’s former chief of staff and his brother; the former prosecutor general and his son; the former interior minister; and the former head of Ukraine’s intelligence service.

The EU had previously promised to impose visa bans and asset freezes on people guilty of human rights abuses and violence.

But Thursday’s list targets the so-called Yanukovych “familia” for "involvement in crimes in connection with the embezzlement of Ukrainian state funds and their illegal transfer outside Ukraine" - money thought to be worth several billions of euros, but also thought to have been sent to exotic jurisdictions by now.

Meanwhile, the EU’s Ukraine diplomacy more broadly was put under a question mark on Wednesday by an interception of internal EU talks.

An audio clip, purportedly obtained by former Ukrainian intelligence officers and posted on YouTube, shows Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet in a phone call to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton giving credence to theories that someone in the EU-backed interim government ordered snipers to shoot people at the height of the crisis.

“What was disturbing is that the same snipers ... killed people on both sides. She showed me some photos. She said that as a medical doctor she could tell it was the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it's really disturbing that now the new coalition, they don't want to investigate what exactly happened,” Paet tells Ashton, referring to Olga Bohomolets, a senior medical officer at the protest camp.

“There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych. It was somebody from the new coalition,” he adds.

The Estonian foreign ministry has confirmed the authenticity of the recording, made on 25 February.

But Bohomolets told the British daily, The Telegraph, that her views only expressed a hypothesis and should not be used to assert that members of Ukraine’s new government are guilty of the killings.

"I think you can only say something like this on the basis of fact … It's not correct and it's not good to do this. It should be based on fact,” she said.

Ukraine PM, EU leaders taking soft line on Crimea

Ukraine’s interim leader has urged the UK and US to protect its territorial integrity, but indicated the Ukrainian army will not act unless Russian forces move beyond Crimea.

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