The European Union voted to suspend visa-liberalisation discussions with Russia, and suspend talks on a new economic cooperation package, but stopped short of imposing asset freezes or travel banks on specific individuals, at an emergency meeting on Ukraine in Brussels.
In a summit that over-ran by more than two and a half hours, EU member states toughened their language on sanctions, with Germany in particular hardening its stance towards Russia. The US’s decision earlier in the day to implement asset freezes and travel bans on Russian individuals involved in the military incursion into Ukraine, also increased pressure on the EU to act, according to officials.
Among the actions taken was the decision to suspend bilateral talks with the Russian Federation on visa matters as well as talks on an economic agreement. “We support the decision of the European Members of the G8 and the EU institutions to suspend their participation in G8 Summit preparations until further notice,” the European Council said in a statement. The European Union said it would also decide on “additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit,” should negotiations between Russia and Ukraine not commence and yield results.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said that asset freezes and travel bans on Russia could happen “relatively quickly” unless progress is made on dialogue with Ukraine. Poland – which was been one of the strongest voices in support of sanctions on Russia – said a decision on travel bans and asset freezes could be made “within days.”
Speaking after the meeting, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the outcome of the summit sent "a strong message to Russia and to President Putin that his actions in Crimea are not acceptable, are not going to be tolerated."
Earlier Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who met with EU leaders, told reporters that Ukraine was "ready to protect" its country. "In case of further escalation and military intervention into Ukraininan territory by foreign forces, the Ukrainian government and military will act in accordance with the constitution and laws," Yatseniuk said before leaving for Dublin.
The meeting of EU leaders in Brussels took place against a background of rapidly changing events. The Crimean parliament announced it was to seek accession to the Russian Federation, and put the decision to referendum on March 16th.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the proposed referendum in Crimea was “illegitimate,” and not valid, according to the European Council.
Mr Yatseniuk denounced the announcement by the Crimean parliament. “Crimea is, was and will be an integral part of Ukraine,” he said.
Separately, the EU also froze the assets of ousted Ukrainian president Yanukovich and 17 other officials suspected of human rights violations and misuse of state funds today.