5th Dec 2023

EU leaders threaten sanctions amid shelling in Ukraine

  • Ukraine has been fighting a low-intensity war with Russia-controlled forces in east Ukraine for eight years (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)
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An artillery shell hit a kindergarten in east Ukraine and Washington said Russia looked like it was about to attack its neighbour, as EU leaders held a special session to discuss sanctions in Brussels on Thursday (17 February).

The artillery bombardment saw 32 shells rain down on the city of Stanytsia Luhanska in Ukraine-controlled east Ukraine on Thursday morning, Kyiv said.

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One of them knocked a hole in kindergarten number 21, narrowly missing a class of pupils, but leaving three people in the same building concussed, Ukraine added, while publishing images and videos of the damaged school.

Reports of "multiple shelling incidents" along the contact line were also confirmed by international monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"The shelling of a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska by pro-Russian forces is a big provocation," Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said.

US president Joe Biden warned that the escalation was exactly the kind of pretext that Russian president Vladimir Putin has been waiting for.

"Every indication we have is they're prepared to go into Ukraine and attack Ukraine," Biden said while leaving the White House, according to Reuters. "My sense is it will happen in the next several days," he said.

It looked like "Russia is trying to stage a pretext for an armed attack against Ukraine" Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels.

"We don't have evidence of [Russian] troops withdrawing, but what we have is evidence about increasing fighting in some parts of the borders, where I was recently visiting - heavy bombing and a lot of disinformation from the Russian side," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell added.

Speaking Thursday morning, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that, "the situation near the borders of Russia can ignite at any moment" and he accused Ukraine of "provocative actions."

The threat of Russian aggression has already seen EU countries urge their nationals to leave Ukraine and fly out non-essential diplomats in recent days.

The US and EU have also threatened to impose far-reaching sanctions against Russian energy firms, banks, and oligarchs.

EU leaders meeting for an African Union summit in Brussels on Thursday repeated those warnings after holding special talks on Ukraine.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said there had been "absolute unanimity" on sanctions.

The sanctions will be "the more severe, the more offensive and aggressive the policy of the Russian Federation is," said Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

"This is the first time that the real strength of the EU is coming to the surface," Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša said, referring to the sanctions the EU could impose.

Borrell described a "very tough" package of sanctions and said he would call a snap meeting of foreign ministers to put it into play as soon as there was a Russian attack.

"I will do it as soon as needed if there is an aggression," he said.

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, said Thursday that some Russian military hardware would be left in place in his country after Russian forces ended ongoing military drills there.

But the situation in Belarus also is "bringing additional [security] concerns," to Europe, Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausèda said on the margins of the African Union summit in Brussels

Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas suggested that Putin's motives for threatening European peace had as much a personal motive as a political one.

"I think he is clearly enjoying himself, being at the centre of attention in the West, because there were years when he was maybe somewhat overlooked," Kallas told Reuters.

"But now, with the different Western leaders visiting him, everybody constantly speculating what he's thinking or what he might do ... this is making him definitely very important," she said in the interview with the news agency.


The will and courage to stand up to a modern-day threat

We are sounding the alarm to prevent an irreversible destructive scenario from unfolding. We must take lessons from the bitter experiences of the 20th century and dedicate all our efforts to reversing a march towards conflict.

China backs shutting Ukraine out of Nato

In Munich, Volodymyr Zelensky voiced his concerns that the chances of Nato membership for his country may already have been diminished, because of the pressure from Russia.

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