EU leaders refrain from further sanctions on Russia

Nato defends bolstering of troops

British foreign secretary William Hague: ‘Europe must not relax in preparing the third sphere of sanctions,’ he said. Photograph: EPA/Simela Pantzartzi

British foreign secretary William Hague: ‘Europe must not relax in preparing the third sphere of sanctions,’ he said. Photograph: EPA/Simela Pantzartzi


EU foreign ministers meeting in Athens yesterday called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s eastern borders, but stopped short of authorising deeper economic sanctions on the country.

Ukraine dominated the informal meeting of foreign affairs ministers, which was attended by Minister of State for European Affairs Paschal Donohoe.

While ministers refrained from discussing so-called “phase-three” sanctions that could hurt Russian’s economy, British foreign secretary William Hague said preparations for those sanctions must be under way. “This isn’t the moment for phase-three sanctions, but they have to be ready. The situation remains very dangerous, it remains very tense . . . Europe must not relax in preparing the third sphere of sanctions.”

He described the withdrawal of some Russian troops earlier this week as “a token withdrawal”, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterating the need for Russia to withdraw its troops.

“It is really important that Russia shows that it is serious about the de-escalation by moving troops back and that’s something that I hope we will see happening,” she said, adding that she was in contact with Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The outgoing chief defended the alliance’s increased presence in central and eastern Europe, following Russia’s claims that Nato was violating existing agreements between Russia and Nato. “This is just another piece of Russian propaganda and disinformation,” he said. “Russia is violating every principle and international commitment it has made, first and foremost the commitment not to invade other countries.”

Earlier, Russia detained 25 Ukrainians it said it suspected of plotting a terrorist attack, while the government in Kiev accused Russia directly of playing a role in the violence during last month’s anti-government protests that led to more than 100 deaths.

Energy independence
Speaking after yesterday’s meeting, Mr Donohoe said the discussion among foreign ministers centred on the broader question of Europe’s long-term relationship with Russia, with energy independence a dominant theme.

“The overarching theme was that the foreign policy environment in which the European Union is operating is now beginning to change in a substantial way,” he said.

“We are living in an international system that’s more fragmented, with more opportunities for potential difficulty.”

However, he stressed the need for engagement with Russia. “We need to be very clear that what Russia did was illegal, that we do not recognise it, but we need to do that in a way that ensures we are talking to Russia, and continue engaging on other issues that matter.”

Europe’s dependency on Russian energy has been highlighted by the crisis in Ukraine, prompting EU states to explore different possible long-term energy sources, including tapping other international energy producers for oil and gas, and developing indigenous sources of energy such as renewable and shale gas.

Russia’s state-owned gas company, Gazprom, has announced an increase in the price paid by Ukraine for its gas twice in the past three days. It now stands at $485 per 1,000 cubic metres , an 80 per cent rise on last week.