December 22, 2014
EU readies fresh Russia sanctions over Ukraine
European Union leaders are likely to threaten Russia with new sanctions over Ukraine today but, fearful of a new Cold War and self-inflicted harm on their own economies, should give Moscow another chance to make peace.
At a summit in Brussels that may hand one of the Union's top jobs to Poland's premier and give hawkish Kremlin critics in ex-communist Eastern Europe new influence in the bloc, EU officials gave Ukraine's embattled President Petro Poroshenko a warm welcome and assurances of further economic and other support.
But divisions among the 28 EU nations have hampered action against Moscow, and Saturday may see only a decision to ask the bloc's executive arm to prepare more options for sanctions.
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."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "We have to address the completely unacceptable situation of having Russian troops on Ukrainian soil. Countries in Europe shouldn't need to think long before realising just how unacceptable that is. We know that from our history.
"So consequences must follow if that situation continues."
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 and expects to secure the post of EU foreign affairs chief.
Poroshenko gave short shrift to Moscow 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 a will to find a political solution to a crisis that President Putin blames on Kiev's drive to turn the ex-Soviet state away from its former master Moscow and toward a Western alliance with the EU and NATO.
He said he was not looking for foreign military intervention and expected progress toward peace as early as Monday - because failure could push the conflict to a point of no return: "Let's not try to spark the new flame of war in Europe," he said.
Barroso also warned of the risk of a "point of no return" in stressing that EU leaders wanted to defuse the confrontation with their nuclear-armed neighbour.
"It makes no sense to have ... a new Cold War," Barroso said. Further conflict would hurt all of Europe, he said, adding that sanctions were meant to push Moscow to talk. His Commission already had prepared a number of options for further measures.
Poroshenko also met Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council whose replacement is due to be decided at the summit, starting at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT).
Diplomats said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has broad support for Van Rompuy's job, eclipsing former frontrunner, Danish Social Democrat Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
Many officials in Brussels expect a deal that will balance the interests of left- and right-wing factions across the bloc, eastern and western states, northern Europe and the south, as well as satisfy pressure for more women in senior EU roles.
With Tusk, a conservative easterner replacing the Belgian Van Rompuy, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, from the centre-left, would take 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.
Eastern leaders, alarmed by a resurgent Moscow, had resisted the appointment of Mogherini at that time. At 41 and in government only since February, they saw her lacking the political experience and weight to stand up to the Kremlin and also handicapped by Italy's dependence on Russian energy.
However, the emergence of support for Tusk as president appears to have forged the makings of a consensus, diplomats and officials said. That would rule out Thorning-Schmidt - who like Tusk has never publicly declared herself a candidate.
Fellow socialists, meeting earlier today in Paris at the invitation of Hollande, formally endorsed Mogherini for the foreign policy job but took no common position on the Council presidency - an omission that appeared to reflect acceptance of a left-right split on the top jobs between Tusk and Mogherini.
Nonetheless, opposition from the likes of Lithuania to Mogherini could still disrupt proceedings. One alternative line-up, according to diplomats involved in the discussions, could see Thorning-Schmidt lead the Council and conservative Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski run foreign affairs.