Wednesday

25th Jan 2017

US and Ukraine urge tougher EU sanctions on Russia

  • EU leaders will discuss Ukraine alongside talks on top jobs on Wednesday (Photo: crosby_cj)

The US and Ukraine are pushing EU leaders to impose economic sanctions on Russia at Wednesday’s (16 July) summit.

The US state department on Monday published a “fact sheet” which accuses Russia of sending heavy weapons to rebels in east Ukraine and of building up its own forces on Ukraine’s border.

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It said Russia sent “at least two-dozen additional armored vehicles and artillery pieces and about as many military trucks” into Ukraine over the past week. It also said Russia has “allowed officials from the [separatist] ‘Donetsk Peoples’ Republic’ to establish a recruiting office in Moscow” with a focus on “volunteers with experience [of] operating heavy weapons”.

“While Russia says it seeks peace, its actions do not match its rhetoric”, the US paper notes. “This all paints a telling picture of Russia’s continued policy of destabilisation in eastern Ukraine”.

According to a report by Bloomberg, the White House the same day held a meeting with EU countries’ ambassadors in Washington.

US sources told the news agency that White House security advisors Antony Blinken and Caroline Atkinson urged the EU diplomats to impose an arms embargo, including a block on France’s plans to deliver two warships to Russia, and to stop some Russian firms’ access to international debt markets.

Sources also told Bloomberg the US is ready to take unilateral measures, but that President Barack Obama will wait until after the EU summit to decide.

Ukrainian authorities are targeting the French warship deal as well.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Konstantin Yeliseyev, circulated a document to press on Monday pointing out that the €1.2 billion warship deal violates the EU’s 2008 Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.

The code says arms sales should not take place if the weapons could be used to press territorial claims, undermine the security of EU states and their allies, or if the buyer has violated international law.

“Gaining the Mistral warships and relevant technologies by Russia will drastically change the balance of power in the Black Sea region to which a number of EU and Nato member states, as well as EU associated partners [including Ukraine] belong”, Yeliseyev said.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry in a separate document circulated in Brussels on Monday backed up the US fact sheet.

It said that on 12 July pro-Russia rebels used heavy Russian rocket launchers - Grads - to shell the towns of Marynivka and Donetsk, killing 12 civilians.

It accused rebels of firing mortars across the Russian border “in order to provoke the Russian Federation to … a direct military aggression against Ukraine” and of using civilians as “human shields”.

It said “every day” in the past week there were “several attempts by columns of Russian military equipment and militants to break into the territory of Ukraine”.

It also complained about “firing on the CTO forces [Ukrainian soldiers] from the direction of the Russian Federation” and of “constant … violations of Ukrainian airspace by Russian helicopters and drones”.

In an additional statement, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said on his website that a Ukrainian military plane flying near the Russian border at an altitude of 6,500 metres was shot down by a “powerful missile that was fired probably from the Russian Federation”.

The EU last week added the names of 11 pro-Russia rebel chiefs to its blacklist.

EU institutions have also drafted potential economic sanctions, which, according to one diplomatic source, include “light, medium, and heavy” options against Russia’s high-tech, banking, and energy sectors.

A second EU source said they also include arms ban options. But one idea, on an arms ban-lite, would cover only new contracts, allowing France to go ahead with the warship deal.

With several EU states - including France, Germany, Italy, and Spain - opposed to tougher action on Russia during last week’s sanctions talks in Brussels, Washington and Kiev seem unlikely to get their way.

Referring to a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Brazil on Sunday, in which they urged Ukraine to launch peace talks with rebel leaders despite the ongoing hostilities, a Ukrainian diplomatic source told EUobserver: “When I see things like this, I think to myself: ‘What can we do to make the EU understand the realities of this conflict?’.”

Trump pledges US-first foreign policy

Economic protectionism and war on Islamist terrorism will form the heart of US foreign policy, Trump has said. He did not rubbish Nato, but indicated interest in a new Russia alliance.

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