Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko has warned of a possible "full-scale war" if attempts to end fighting with Russian troops and rebels in the east of the country end in failure.
European leaders threatened Russia with new sanctions at an EU summit in Brussels today but divisions among the 28 member states have hampered action against Moscow. A draft of today’s final statement indicated they will merely ask the bloc’s executive arm “urgently” to prepare more options for sanctions.
Mr Poroshenko received a warm welcome and assurances of further support at the summit which saw one of the EU’s top jobs go to Poland’s premier and has given hawkish Kremlin critics in Eastern Europe new influence in the bloc .
The appointment of Polish prime minister Donald Tusk as president of the European Council was balanced by the appointment of Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as the bloc's foreign affairs chief.
Ex-communist states had deadlocked an earlier summit two months ago by opposing Ms Mogherini as too soft on Russian president Vladimir Putin and too beholden to Italy’s reliance on Russian natural gas supplies.
The move of Mr Tusk, a former student activist in the anti-Communist Solidarity movement, to Brussels will force an upheaval in the government in Warsaw.
French president Francois Hollande stressed that a failure by Russia to reverse a flow of weapons and troops into eastern Ukraine would force the bloc to impose new economic measures.
“Are we going to let the situation worsen, until it leads to war?” Hollande said at a news conference. “Because that’s the risk today. There is no time to waste.”
The president of formerly Soviet Lithuania, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and of EU hesitation to challenge him, called for urgent military supplies to Kiev and a tougher arms embargo on Russia. Dalia Grybauskaite said Moscow, by attacking Ukraine, was effectively “in a state of war against Europe”.
But large Western countries are wary of damaging their own economies through sanctions. Those include Germany, Britain and France, as well as Italy, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas.
Mr Poroshenko gave short shrift to Moscow’s denials by denouncing the past week’s incursion of thousands of troops with hundreds of armoured vehicles and said he expected the summit to order the European Commission to prepare a new set of sanctions.
But, like Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, he used their joint news conference to stress the importance of finding a political solution to the crisis.
He said he was not looking for foreign military intervention and hoped for a ceasefire deal as early as Monday, when representatives of Moscow, Kiev and the EU meet.
“I think we are very close to the point of no return,” he said. “The point of no return is full-scale war, which already happened on the territory controlled by separatists.”
The appointments of Mr Tusk and Ms Mogherini balance the interests of left- and right-wing factions across the bloc, eastern and western states, northern Europe and the south, as well as satisfying some pressure for more women in senior EU roles.
Mr Tusk, a conservative easterner, replaces the Belgian Herman Van Rompuy, while Ms Mogherini from the centre left takes over as the bloc’s foreign policy chief, replacing Briton Catherine Ashton.
In overall charge of the executive commission, in succession to Barroso, will be conservative former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, appointed at a stormy summit two months ago.
Other elements in striking a deal on the top jobs will be understandings reached on further key roles in the commission, which will be formed in the coming weeks by Juncker.