EU and US poised to implement sanctions on Russia

No breakthrough in US-Russia dialogue on Ukraine as Crimea moves further from Kiev

People attend a pro-Ukrainian rally in Simferopol yesterday. Ukraine’s interim leaders established a new national guard yesterday and appealed to the United States and Britain for assistance against what they called Russian aggression in Crimea under a post-Cold War treaty. The poster (left) reads: “Crimea is Ukraine”. Photograph: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili

People attend a pro-Ukrainian rally in Simferopol yesterday. Ukraine’s interim leaders established a new national guard yesterday and appealed to the United States and Britain for assistance against what they called Russian aggression in Crimea under a post-Cold War treaty. The poster (left) reads: “Crimea is Ukraine”. Photograph: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili

 

The European Union is prepared to apply sanctions on Russian officials next week if they support Sunday’s planned referendum in Crimea, through which the Black Sea peninsula is expected to seek to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

Senior US and EU officials met in London yesterday to co-ordinate the sanctions, as Washington and Nato stepped up military training and surveillance close to Ukraine, which appealed for urgent international help after thousands of Russian troops seized Crimea.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state John Kerry discussed Ukraine yesterday by telephone, but apparently failed to make a breakthrough in arguably the worst crisis to hit East-West relations since the cold war. Russia’s foreign ministry also claimed that planned US aid to Kiev’s new pro-Western government was illegal under US law.

The EU has pledged €11 billion in funding for Ukraine and offered trade benefits worth an estimated €500 million to Kiev. “When it comes to sanctions on Russia, a decision has in fact already been made, especially on the procedure of introducing sanctions. The consequence of this will be the start of sanctions on Monday,” said Polish prime minister Donald Tusk.

Visiting the ex-Soviet Baltic states, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU would discuss sanctions next Monday barring “obvious changes in Russia’s actions.”

“We don’t want a confrontation, but Russia’s actions make preparations necessary,” he said. “We continue to urge Russia to use the last possibilities that are still there for a diplomatic solution against such an escalation. Otherwise, relations between Europe and Russia won’t improve.”


Freeze assets
Washington has already barred entry to the US for certain Russian and Ukrainian officials deemed responsible for threats to Ukraine’s sovereignty, and the White House has authorised moves to freeze assets. Any EU measures are also expected to target such individuals.

Kiev says almost 19,000 Russian troops are now in Crimea, where they have taken control of some Ukrainian military facilities and are besieging others. The region’s main international airport has stopped accepting aircraft from Kiev, while Moscow flights continue normally. The troops in Crimea have the latest Russian weaponry and military vehicles, but wear no insignia. Moscow and pro-Kremlin politicians now running the two million-strong region insist they are local volunteers defending Russian-speakers from “fascist” supporters of the Kiev government. Ukraine’s leaders and the West say they will not recognise Sunday’s referendum or any subsequent declarations about Crimea’s status.

Many ethnic-Russians in the region would like it to be ruled by Moscow, and want nothing to do with Kiev or its EU and US backers. Without waiting for the vote, Crimea’s parliament approved a declaration of independence from Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the decision was “absolutely lawful” and noted how the UN had found no problem with Kosovo’s split from Serbia in 2008 – a move backed by the US and EU but vehemently opposed by Belgrade and Moscow.


Surveillance aircraft
A Nato

reconnaissance aircraft has started flights over Romania, from where it can monitor military movements in neighbouring Ukraine. The aircraft will also operate near Ukraine’s western border in Poland, where the US and Polish air forces are training together. At least 12 US F-16 fighter jets and 300 US personnel are expected to take part in the exercises, which were upgraded at Warsaw’s request due to events in Crimea. Extra US fighter jets are also to take part in Nato patrols over the Baltic states, and the US navy is conducting exercises in the Black Sea with Romania and Bulgaria.