EU leaders meet to discuss Ukraine unrest

French and German premiers to the forefront in call for targeted sanctions

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande at  a joint press conference  in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande at a joint press conference in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

Thu, Feb 20, 2014, 01:00

European foreign ministers will discuss sanctions on Ukraine at an emergency meeting in Brussels today. The meeting was called by the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton after at least 26 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Kiev between Tuesday and yesterday.

Sanctions would represent a significant change in EU policy, which hitherto favoured diplomacy. Unrest began last November, after President Viktor Yanukovich rejected an association agreement with the EU that was five years in the making, preferring a rapprochement with Russia.

At a joint press conference at the Élysée Palace, French president François Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke as if sanctions were a foregone conclusion.

“There are unspeakable, inadmissible, intolerable acts taking place in Ukraine,” Mr Hollande said. “Those who have committed these acts must know they will be punished.”


Vilnius offer stands
Mr Hollande said the EU’s offer last November in Vilnius of an association agreement with Ukraine was still valid.

EU foreign ministers “will specify against whom sanctions will be taken, how they will be graduated and targeted”, Dr Merkel said, adding that they should not hurt the civilian population. “These sanctions are a way of saying that we take the defence of democratic rights most seriously.”

Both leaders emphasised that Russia should be involved in the quest for dialogue and a political solution in Ukraine.

But Dr Merkel added, “The deliberate delaying tactics of the government in recent days have only worsened the situation. They must stop this strategy of playing for time, because it endangers lives.”


Desire for dialogue
Leaders of the Ukrainian opposition recently visited Germany, she noted. “Naturally, we will talk as much with opposition parties as with the representatives of the government. We will try to have discussions with the Ukrainian president, if he is so inclined.”

Other members also called for sanctions. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk called for “personal and financial sanctions” on Ukrainian leaders. At the request of the EU, the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany will travel to Kiev this morning .

Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt, a strong critic of the Ukrainian administration, accused Mr Yanukovich of having “blood on his hands”.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who travels to Brussels today for the emergency meeting, said he was “appalled” at the situation and called for “immediate steps . . . to calm the rising tension”.

“Our European partners have done enough mediation,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, calling events in Kiev “an attempted coup d’état”. He accused the West of failing to recognise “neo-Nazi, anti-Semite, extremist acts” by protesters.