EU leaders may consider further Russian sanctions

EU to sign trade agreement with Ukraine next week

Asked if the possibility of further EU sanctions on Russia,  German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it “might be a debate to be continued at the next meeting of the European heads of state and government”. Photograph: Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk

Asked if the possibility of further EU sanctions on Russia, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it “might be a debate to be continued at the next meeting of the European heads of state and government”. Photograph: Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 01:00

EU leaders may consider imposing further sanctions on Russia at next week’s leaders’ summit in Brussels, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier indicated yesterday, as tensions continued in the eastern regions of Ukraine and a potential energy war loomed.

Mr Steinmeier was speaking following talks with the foreign ministers of the three Baltic states, in the Estonian capital of Tallin, a day after Russian energy giant Gazprom cut gas supplies to Ukraine.

Former Soviet republics Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have been the most vocal proponents of further action against Russia since the crisis in Ukraine began.

Further sanctions

Asked if the possibility of further sanctions was under consideration, the German foreign minister said it “might be a debate to be continued at the next meeting of the European heads of state and government”.

He said that while the EU had set clear conditions for increasing sanctions, he and his Baltic counterparts had not reached agreement on whether that point had been reached.

“If Russia is responsible for a lasting destabilisation of Ukraine, then further decisions will become unavoidable,” said Mr Steinmeier. “We have not conclusively discussed whether we are now in that situation.”

The EU has so far adopted “phase two” sanctions against Russia, but has stopped short of “phase three” action, which would involve deeper sanctions against specific economic sectors.

EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg on Monday ahead of the EU leaders’ summit later in the week, with Ukraine set to top the agenda.

Diplomatic tensions between the EU and Moscow had subsided somewhat since Russian president Vladimir Putin’s attendance at D-Day commemorations earlier this month and his recognition of the results of the May 25th general election in Ukraine, but the situation remains fragile.

Cutting supplies

Earlier this week, Gazprom announced it was cutting supplies of natural gas to Ukraine after Kiev missed a payment deadline imposed by Russia, in an ongoing dispute over the terms and conditions of the contract. Similarly, trilateral talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine, in Kiev at the weekend, ended without agreement.

Tensions could reignite next week, when the EU is scheduled to sign the contested association agreement with Ukraine. Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the agreement last November directly led to the current crisis.

In March, EU leaders signed the political parts of the agreement, with the remainder of the package, including the trade dimensions, expected to be signed on June 27th. Russia has warned it could respond with its own economic sanctions on Ukraine should Kiev sign the agreement.

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso telephoned Mr Putin last Friday to discuss the imminent signing of the agreement, inviting Russia to engage in bilateral talks at a technical level.

Yesterday, a Russian journalist working for state television and radio was killed in a mortar attack near the east Ukrainian city of Luhansk, according to media in Russia.