UPDATE 3-Time running out for EU bid to engage Russia, Germany warns

Tue Mar 11, 2014 2:54pm EDT

* German minister warns EU will act if Crimea vote goes ahead

* Visits Baltic states where anxiety about Ukraine is high

By David Mardiste and Andrius Sytas

TALLINN/VILNIUS, March 11 (Reuters) - The European Union will start preparing further responses to Russia's actions in Ukraine if Moscow does not show signs of backing down by the weekend, Germany's foreign minister said on Tuesday, a warning echoed by the Polish prime minister.

Since the fall of Ukraine's president to pro-Western unrest, Russsian forces have consolidated their hold on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula ahead of a Russian-backed referendum on the region's future on Sunday. The new government in Kiev and its Western backers have denounced the planned vote as illegal.

"If the weekend passes without a visible change in Russia's conduct then on Monday in the European (foreign affairs) council we will have to discuss a next stage of measures," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said during a visit to the Estonian capital Tallinn.

"We don't want confrontation but the action of the Russian side unfortunately makes it necessary for us to prepare, as I have just outlined to you," he said on a one-day swing through the three Baltic states, all EU and NATO members whose proximity to ex-ruler Russia makes them nervous about events in Ukraine.

Speaking in Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters: "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."

Poland has a special interest in Ukraine and has taken a tough line. They share a border and large parts of western Ukraine were Polish before World War Two. Polish foreign policy is driven by a fear of Russia, its former overlord, pushing west into Ukraine and then threatening Poland's own borders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been at the forefront of a strategy of "engagement" with Russian President Vladimir Putin since a tug-of-war between Russia and Europe over Ukraine deteriorated into their most tense stand-off since the Cold War.

Participants at a meeting of Merkel's Christian Democrats on Tuesday said she had told them she is prepared to accept negative consequences of sanctions against Russia. "Events on the Crimea amount to an annexation and Russia cannot be allowed to do this," the chancellor said with emotion, though she added the EU must keep talking with Russia, the sources said.

EU leaders have so far taken largely symbolic action against Moscow in response, such as suspending talks on visa deals. Merkel says tougher sanctions like travel restrictions and asset freezes could follow if Moscow does not take up her proposal of an "international contact group".

Its aim would be to facilitate communication between Moscow and the pro-EU government in Kiev in place since the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich was ousted after bloody protests.

Russian forces have since taken over military installations across Crimea, which is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and was Russian territory until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954.

The EU is still seeking a diplomatic solution, Steinmeier said, "but so far we haven't succeeded and time is running out".

Asked if the next stage might include sanctions on arms between firms from EU/NATO states and Russia, Steinmeier said Germany - the world's third biggest arms exporter - had little such business with Moscow, but other countries had more.

"That will also have to be included if the current Crimea or Ukraine crisis turns into a permanent conflict between Russia and the European Union, or between Russia and NATO," he said.

"If it remains an unresolved problem and Russia continues on this path, not just going ahead with the referendum but also integrating Crimea into Russian territory, then there will certainly be thoughts among NATO member states in that sense."

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (4)
JohnNico wrote:
Germany is the only strong and viable country in the EU, though, they were emasculated after WW2. England still has London, a global financial center, but, the rest of Western Europe is shrinking both in people and finances. I do not think Russia cares—they have their allies allied globally, and, Russian does need need the EU to survive—-which is why this is happening. Good luck to western Europe and the US in the coming decades—-not shaping up to be good times.

Mar 11, 2014 3:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Jayson007 wrote:
Overlords ? Ex Rulers ? If you know anything about the EU your titles would match either side. The EU president is not elected by its people. It would be like if we let our 18% aproval rating congress picked our president every year. Corruption on top of corruption. I am not saying this land grab is right but I am saying the EU is not one to preach morals. Russia took a opertunity to aquire a winter navy port. I do not see them backing down without a war. Its seems like you would push China, Russia, Iran and Syria into closer trade partners if you alienate Russia. Which would only hurt Europe. This all looks like lose lose… I wish we would not get involved.

Mar 11, 2014 3:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
yvonmoua wrote:
Russia known Western EU and USA tactic of war against Russia very well, I don’t think EU will stand together with USA to stop Russia’s invasion to Ukraine. After Ukraine, Russia will invade an other smaller country surrounding Russia too. UN cannot do nothing to stop them, bad222.

Mar 11, 2014 3:46pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.