EU and US to impose further economic sanctions on Russians
EU foreign ministers sign customs deal to abolish or reduce duties on Ukrainian imports
Members of self-defence units of the Euromaidan movement, dressed in camouflage uniform, attempt to block those making their way to the stage during a rally protesting against the authorities inactivity in eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
The EU and US vowed to impose further economic costs on Russia yesterday, as tensions mounted over continuing unrest in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian militants seized control of government buildings in cities across the region.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg agreed to add to the list of Russian individuals targeted by travel bans and asset freezes. However, ministers refrained from imposing deeper economic sanctions, opting to wait for a European Commission report later this week into the effect of economic sanctions on member states.
Foreign ministers agreed in principle to apply targeted sanctions against businesses as well as individuals, as the EU continued to adopt an incremental approach to economic sanctions.
Customs duties cut
In a bid to maintain momentum in discussions with Ukraine’s interim government on the association agreement with the EU, ministers signed a temporary customs deal, which will abolish or reduce customs duties on Ukrainian imports.
The European Commission estimates the arrangement will save Ukrainian businesses, who are heavily dependent on the EU export market, about €500 million a year. It came as the US signed a $1 billion (€0.72bn) loan guarantee agreement for the troubled country. US treasury secretary Jacob Lew and his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Shlapak, signed the deal in Washington yesterday.
Speaking after the meeting in Luxembourg, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said ministers had agreed on a number of measures to respond to the crisis in Ukraine which has spread to the east following the seizure of government building by separatists over the past week.
This included “a round condemnation of the illegal armed activity” in eastern Ukraine, he said, as well as the decision to expand the list of individuals to whom sanctions will be applied.
“Our priority is to de-escalate the crisis; to try and find a political solution and we very much hope that the meeting on Thursday between the European Union, Russia, the United States and Ukraine will find a way forward. But we also have to be very clear that the illegal activity that took place, particularly recently, is clearly an attempt to destabilise the eastern part of Ukraine. That has to be repudiated and there has to be a response to that.”
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to attend Thursday’s meeting in Geneva. He reiterated yesterday that the Kremlin has had no involvement in events across eastern Ukraine over the last eight days which has seen pro-Russian protesters seize government buildings.
The towns of Horlivka and Slaviansk, close to the Russian border, were among the east Ukrainian towns that saw rebel activity yesterday, with a number of government buildings seized.
Speaking after the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton said the EU “condemns unreservedly” the actions by armed individuals in the cities of eastern Ukraine. “These attempts at destabilising Ukraine must stop. We strongly support the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We call upon Russia to do so as well and pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border. Any further actions aimed at destabilising Ukraine have to stop,” she said.
“We commend the Ukrainian authorities for pursuing the law-and-order operations in a measured manner and we encourage the government in Kiev to contribute further to reducing tensions. Free and fair presidential elections on May 25th are the best way to express the will of the citizens as is the process of constitutional reform.”
In a conciliatory gesture to the separatists, Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchynov said he would consider holding a referendum on the same day as the national elections in May, adding that he was certain “a majority of Ukrainians will support an indivisible, independent, democratic and united Ukraine”.