Europe moves to intensify sanctions on Russia

EU leaders look to punish Russia over continuing interference in Ukraine


European leaders advanced plans last night to intensify financial sanctions against Russia over its interference in Ukraine.

At a summit in Brussels, the leaders also called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and Israel.

Meeting for the third time in seven weeks, the leaders advanced proposals to suspend European Investment Bank financing of new public sector projects in Russia. The bank is an EU institution that provides public sector lending for long-term capital projects at preferential rates

The EU leaders were also discussing measures to use their voting power at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a non-EU body, to suspend its financing of new Russian projects.

In addition, EU heads of state and government were set to ask the European Commission to reassess bilateral EU-Russia initiatives with a view to suspending regional co-operation programmes.

At the same time, the leaders were set to exclude from suspension projects dealing exclusively with civil society bodies.

Citing the EU’s policy of not recognising the annexation of Crimea, the leaders were also set to declare that international financial institutions should refrain from financing any projects that explicitly or implicitly recognise the annexation.

The escalation of sanctions follows the leaders’ conclusion that steps they set out last month to bring a halt to hostilities have not been fully met.

In a draft communiqué, the leaders condemned continued illegal activities by armed militants in eastern Ukraine. They also noted that Russia’s engagement had not led armed groups to lay down their weapons or to a cessation of the flow of weapons and militants across the border.

In Ukraine yesterday, fighting continued to rage when separatists tried to break through the lines of government forces near the border with Russia and a tentative step towards agreeing conditions for a ceasefire failed.

Eleven more Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the space of 24 hours while hundreds of bodies of rebels were found in shallow graves in a former separatist stronghold, the army said.

Civilian deaths

Fighting has escalated sharply since Friday with the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane and the deaths of civilians in air and artillery attacks on residential areas on both sides of the border, which Russia and Ukraine have blamed on each other.

Accusations of direct Russian involvement in the 3½-month conflict, in which hundreds have died, is being pushed hard by Ukraine to persuade the US and its European allies to impose tougher sanctions on Russia.

Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk levelled strong criticism at Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. “Everything which is happening in Ukraine has been planned by Russia since 2004. Putin has a clear plan and that is to destroy Ukraine and establish his influence over post-Soviet space,” he said in a public speech carried by his website.