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Ukraine crisis: EU set to extend Russia and Crimea blacklist
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 21:11

White House calls on Russia to open dialogue with Ukraine on military base standoff and blames Moscow for casualties

An EU summit in Brussels on Thursday is likely to extend a blacklist of Russian and Crimean figures subject to travel bans and asset freezes, senior officials and diplomats say, but is unlikely to embark on moves which could spiral into a full-blown trade war between Europe and Russia.

Divided over how to react to the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, European leaders are poised to deliver a minimal response to the crisis.

Moscow has already reacted with derision to the EU decision on Monday to blacklist 21 Russian and Crimean officials and has upped the ante in the confrontation by declaring Crimea Russian territory and making concrete moves on the ground to entrench the seizure. There is little to suggest that Vladimir Putin's policy will be affected by extending the number of officials or businessmen punished for the Kremlin's actions.

Senior EU officials met late into the night in Brussels on Wednesday trying to hammer out a compromise between 28 countries. With hours to go before the summit opened in Brussels, they had not yet agreed on common action. Twelve pages of a draft summit statement, obtained by the Guardian, had nothing yet to say about Ukraine or Russia.

A senior German government official made plain that there was little stomach in Berlin to move to the kind of trade or economic sanctions that could hurt Russia but also damage Germany and much of the EU in what could becomean escalating sanctions war.

The senior official said the EU reserved the option to move to trade sanctions, but that the trigger for this would be Russian "escalation and destabilisation" in Ukraine. Putin's action on Crimea did not pass the escalation test, the source signalled. Russian action in eastern or southern Ukraine, excepting Crimea, would be a form of red line, triggering the more forceful sanctions, he added.

The summit is also likely to cancel a meeting of Russian and EU leaders scheduled for Sochi in June and to consider other measures aimed at isolating Russia politically and internationally.

The Germans trumpeted the notion that Brussels and Kiev would sign part of an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU on Friday. The abrupt refusal of Ukraine's deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign the same agreement last November triggered the street rebellion that culminated in his overthrow three weeks ago and sparked Russia's intervention.

The signs are that the west is settling in for a long game with uncertain outcomes. Barack Obama is due in the Netherlands and Brussels next week for a series of summits expected to be dominated by Putin and Ukraine.

The White House on Wednesday called on Russia to open dialogue with Ukraine on the military base standoff in Crimea and said Moscow was responsible for any casualties inflicted by its own or allied forces after a Ukrainian soldier was shot dead on Tuesday. "The continuing efforts by Russian forces to seize Ukrainian military installations are creating a dangerous situation," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "We condemn these actions. Russia should immediately begin discussions with the Ukrainian government to ensure the safety of Ukrainian forces in the Crimean region of Ukraine."

The Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told a forum at Georgetown University in Washington: "We have seen Russia rip up the international rule book, trying to redraw the map of Europe and creating, in just a few weeks, the most serious security crisis since the end of the cold war."

The US stepped up its rhetoric on the economic costs of the crisis to Russia, insisting the limited sanctions were already having an effect on broader market confidence, despite the ridicule from Moscow.

Jen Psaki, the US state department spokeswoman, said: "There is a huge economic impact that we are seeing on the ground in Russia and that is partly in response to the political steps we have taken but also in anticipation of the some of the economic steps. Despite the intervention of the Russian central bank, the rouble is at a five-year low against the dollar. More capital has already fled Russia this year than in all of 2013. There are impacts."

The UN secretary-general, Ban-Ki-Moon, is to go to Moscow and Kiev on Thursday/today and Friday/tomorrow to try to get negotiations going between Russia and Ukraine.

The Kremlin maintained its argument that the US and the EU had fomented an anti-Yanukovych coup on Kiev, abrogating the 1994 Budapest memorandum in which Russia, the US, Britain and France guaranteed Ukraine's border and territorial integrity in return for Kiev's surrender of its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal.

The US and the EU argue that Putin has shredded that 1994 pact by seizing part of Ukraine and redrawing the country's borders.

Psaki said the Kremlin was guilty of aggression in Crimea.

"The Russian military is directly responsible for any casualties that its forces inflict, whether they be regular uniformed troops or irregulars without insignia.

"Reports that a Ukrainian military officer was killed yesterday are particularly concerning and fly in the face of President Putin's claim that Russia's military intervention in Crimea has brought stability."

Ian Traynor
Dan Roberts

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source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/19/ukraine-crisis-eu-russia-crimea-blacklist