Merkel toughens stance on Crimea

EU leaders locked in discussions over sanctions

French President Francois Hollande and German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of spring European head of states Summit at EU council headquaters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday. Photograph: EPA

French President Francois Hollande and German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of spring European head of states Summit at EU council headquaters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday. Photograph: EPA

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:00

SUZANNE LYNCH


Chancellor Angela Merkel toughened her stance on Crimea for Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels, saying she was ready to isolate Russia and step up sanctions if necessary.

The Ukrainian crisis made Russia’s participation in the G8 group of industralised nations effectively defunct, the German leader said, with Germany ready to move beyond existing sanctions should the situation deteriorate further.

“And this will, without doubt, include economic sanctions,” said Dr Merkel to the Bundestag before heading to Brussels. She saw Russia as “largely isolated” in the international community ahead of June’s planned G8 summit in Sochi.

“As long as the political environment for such an important forum as the G8 doesn’t exist, the G8 doesn’t exist either – neither the summit nor the G8 as such,” she said.

At yesterday’s EU summit in Brussels, the German leader pushed fellow EU leaders to find “common language” so that Europe would recognise neither a “so-called referendum” nor “one-sided shift of borders”.


Borders redrawn
French president François Hollande agreed borders “cannot be redrawn and a region allowed to pass from one nation to another without a response”.

Yesterday Berlin prohibited one of Germany’s leading arms companies, Rheinmetall, from proceeding with a €100 million deal with Russia. Paris has declined to follow the lead, saying it would review its arms deals with Russia in the autumn.

Attitudes towards sanctions vary across Europe, with the most outspoken supporters in Sweden and the ex-eastern bloc – from Poland and the Czech Republic to the Baltic countries.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said he would push the meeting to drive forward plans to diversify European energy sources and reduce dependency on Russia. Austria, Britain, Italy and other Mediterranean countries call for a more restrained approach.

Ireland is understood to be among the stronger supporters of sanctions, though officials declined to confirm this.


Economically ‘hurtful’
“Sanctions are not seen as an end to themselves, but they are hurtful economically,” said Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“We favour and support sanctions against individuals, the question of further sanctions is one for the council to debate later this evening.”

Ahead of their dinner, during which leaders debated 12 additional names to add to an EU no-travel list, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe announced a 15-head mission to Ukraine. The monitoring group will spend a month gathering information about political, humanitarian and minority issues.

Minister for European Affairs Paschal Donohoe welcomed the OSCE presence as “essential to monitor security on the ground as an impartial presence, but also to monitor the upcoming elections” scheduled for May 25th.

This morning EU leaders in Brussels will sign an agreement for closer political co-operation with Ukraine’s interim premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk. A second association agreement, dealing with economic and trade measures, will be held until after presidential elections on May 25th.

Last November’s rejection of such a deal by pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in favour of a deal with Moscow triggered protests and forced him to flee.

The European Parliament yesterday backed a package of nearly €500 million in trade benefits for Ukraine, ahead of a free trade plan to allow Ukrainian companies access from April to the bloc’s 500 million consumers.