January 26, 2015 / 8:25 PM / 5 years ago

EU hawks lead calls for tougher sanctions on Russia

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union hawks on Russia, including Poland and Lithuania, called on Monday for sanctions on Moscow to be stepped up after a new offensive by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, but EU power-broker Germany took a more cautious line.

The EU called an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers for Thursday after separatists attacked Mariupol, a strategic Black Sea port, on Saturday with what NATO said was Russian support. Kiev said 30 civilians were killed.

The renewed fighting has put stronger EU sanctions back on the agenda a week after ministers discussed a memo by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini suggesting EU governments could start talking to Russia again on some issues if Moscow implemented a Ukraine peace agreement.

EU ambassadors meet on Tuesday to prepare Thursday’s meeting, but one EU diplomat said it seemed unlikely at this stage that ministers would adopt new sanctions on Thursday, with the most likely scenario being that they would ask officials to draw up possible further sanctions.

The 28 EU nations have long been divided in their support for tough sanctions on Russia. Some of the most hawkish were quick to call for more action.

“The response of the Western world should be very firm,” Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski told a news conference in Warsaw. “In my opinion the EU response should be to deliberately raise the issue of toughening sanctions against Russia.”

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said: “Many times we have said that if the situation in Ukraine gets worse, if Russia continues its aggressive actions, then we will impose additional sanctions. This is exactly what I expect from Thursday’s meeting.”

But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested Russia had not yet crossed the red line that would trigger more sanctions.

“A lot depends on how the next three days go. After the talks I’ve had in the last days with some European colleagues, nobody is desperately ambitious to meet in Brussels to impose sanctions,” he said.

“But of course, an attack or a broad offensive on Mariupol would be a qualitative change in the situation to which we would have to react,” Steinmeier said.

The head of the European Council of EU leaders, Poland’s Donald Tusk, hit out at the weekend at “appeasement” of Russia and said it was “time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions.”

However, a number of EU countries, including Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Austria, have only reluctantly gone down the sanctions route.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Monday the attacks on Mariupol showed Moscow’s objective was to increase the Ukrainian territory it controlled.

Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak and Adrian Krajewski in Warsaw, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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