Europe moves softly softly on Ukraine

An armed pro-Russian activist stands in front of seized the Ukrainian regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Sloviansk, Ukraine, on Monday 14 April 2014, with the Russian national sign in the background An armed pro-Russian activist in front of a seized building in Sloviansk

Since the last European summit - when Europe's leaders warned Russia of further sanctions if there was no de-escalation of the crisis - events have moved fast on the ground.

Pro-Russian militias, most of them armed, have seized buildings in nine eastern and southern Ukrainian towns.

Four town halls have been occupied, as have two police headquarters, two buildings belonging to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the regional administrative headquarters in Donetsk.

The territorial integrity of Ukraine has already been weakened.

The United States, Nato and most European leaders believe these actions are being supported by Russia with the intention of destabilising Ukraine.

Start Quote

Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt

If they [the Russians] escalate, then I think we should escalate”

End Quote Carl Bildt Sweden's foreign minister

Even the German government, which has been ambivalent about exerting pressure on the Kremlin, has concluded that "there are a lot of signs that armed gangs in eastern Ukraine are getting support from Russia".

That was the background to the meeting of Europe's foreign ministers.

In the event they agreed to add to the list of 18 Russian and Crimean officials who are subject to travel restrictions and an asset freeze.

A sign of the caution of Europe's ministers is that we do not yet know how many more Russian officials will be subject to these sanctions. That will be worked on on Tuesday.

As regards deeper economic sanctions, Europe is still "completing the work" on what are called Phase Three sanctions.

In Luxembourg, at the final press conference, these economic sanctions were not even mentioned.

For further EU sanctions to be imposed there has to be unanimity.

'More, not less diplomacy'

That will prove difficult to achieve.

It is just possible that if the meeting in Geneva on Thursday - involving the US, Russia, the EU and Ukraine - is unsuccessful then the EU will hold an emergency summit next week to discuss moving to Phase Three and economic sanctions, but there are significant differences between the EU's 28 nation states.

There are those who believe Russia will only listen to a resolute and determined EU.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, on 14 April 2014 Europe's hesitancy is clear for Russian President Vladimir Putin to see
Women pray for peace near the Ukrainian regional administration building that was seized by pro-Russian activists in the eastern Ukrainian town of Sloviansk, Ukraine, Monday 14 April 2014 Women praying for peace in the eastern Ukrainian town of Sloviansk

The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said "further sanctions have to be the response to Russia's behaviour".

The Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said "if they [the Russians] escalate, then I think we should escalate"; President Francois Hollande told President Barack Obama that France favoured "firm but graduated sanctions".

But the Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans, said it was "too early to impose more sanctions".

The German Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, speaking in Berlin, called for "more, not less diplomacy" from Europe and suggested that "sabre-rattling by Nato" would not solve the problem.

Spain and Italy are both very cautious about strengthening sanctions.

What remains unclear is what would trigger Europe moving to Phase Three and economic sanctions.

Its hesitancy is clear for Moscow to see.

Some are suggesting that Thursday is a last chance for Russia to de-escalate the crisis and to pull back the 40,000 troops it has on the Ukrainian border.

But there are now new facts on the ground: towns effectively occupied by pro-Russian militias who are determined to hold referendums on whether to separate and join Russia.

For Europe it is a defining moment: whether they can find the unity and resolve to stand against borders being re-drawn by force.

Map: Ukraine The map shows towns where pro-Russian activists have seized buildings
Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Interesting is any of u even been in rassia or ukraine!?u saying rassia is land grabing but what exacly did u lot where doing for the past hugreds of year's, what you dont even know ur own history now?kilers in kiev freedom fiters but ppl on the east are separatists and terrorists pathetick! What they cant expres them self now or becouse the dont want in EU they not aloud to!

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    It would be wise to at least accept that all out conflict is a possibility.

    Not now, maybe - but the river only runs one way. You can't undo these things once they're done. I reckon it'll happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    110.Baboon Hunter
    That would be while we were busy fighting the Japanese as well, without assistance from Russia, and the Italians/Germans in NA. Had the Russians not invaded Finland, the Baltics and Eastern Poland, they would have had support from them. Accounts for why most of Russia's neighbours dont like her. That aside still cant see why you think these events justify Putin's actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    From Kiev post : 50% of police forces in Donetsk/Lugansk oblast have switched allegiance to pro-Russian forces. The pro-Russian forces in the East are thus the Ukrainian police itself, receiving orders from Russian agents. Thus, to restore order, Ukraine needs to send in forces from the "West", namely the new national guard, composed of the right sector. Civil war guaranteed. Solution: EU force

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    What is pathetic about this crisis is that not one Western politician is able to stand up and say that it is right and good that the predominantly Russian-speaking parts of the Ukraine should be affiliated to, or part of Russia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    The reports do not quite substantiate their apparent point.

    Those taking over public buildings may well be Russian, but that does not mean it is orchestrated by the Russian authorities any more than the fact that British nationals were fighting alongside Syrian islamists meant that was arranged by the British ones.

    It's very unclear what exactly is happening, and unwise to assume anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    @ 70. Damocles

    Well said. Even for people supporting the separatists, the move to independence could have been handled peacefully after the election of the new government in Kiev. Russia don't want this and are the clear aggressors here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    @ 107. bertiethebolt

    you have failed to mention that while US and UK were supply weapons to Russia during WWII both were politely waiting for the course of war to change dramatically in 1943 before launching western front more than one year later 1944.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I can't believe some on this site (20. the Psycrow) have the audacity to use this as a chance to knock the EU for not standing together when it is the UK who are at the front when it comes to going against the prevailing stream. Now is not the moment for politicking mr Farage Jnr.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    So,what to do?follow 'rule of law' &leave the People to their fate like children[new to democracy] who must learn by discovery? or,a moral/ethical responsibility to 'stop the fight' and mediate/teach/help them find their way out of the mess they've gotten into=2 schools of 'good parenting'/I favour intervention bec I was raised/educated that UK way post WWII-UN-mindset/Ethics-Morality always.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    90.WorldOfChloda - your history seems a bit rusty. Russia sided with AH, supplied coal, oil etc, and took the opportunity to invade several other countries. Until Adolf double crossed them and invaded them. They then relied upon US and UK to supply weapons, materiel etc so they could survive. They then subjected millions to starvation and slavery for 45 years, particularly Ukraine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Russia's ability to act quickly in orchestrated coordination is in stark contrast to the inability of Europe to even respond with a unified voice.

    Putin is acting in the interests of Russian, and doing it well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    @ 87. Nick
    Right.....Kiev's protesters were peacefully throwing petrol bombs and paving blocks to the police for weeks to "defend" themselves. Then they started to beat up police, take guns and fire at police forcing police to shot in return. This is the only explanation why during first day it was 50-50 casualties on both sides. This does not happen when ARMED police start to short protesters

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    If Putin is such an admirer of referenda, why won't he ask the people of Chechnya & Dagestan whether or not they want to stay in Russia?

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    99 Gut Thompson
    From what friends tell me your option 1 seems to be clear favorite.

    100 PragueImp
    Quite an ironic moniker considering 1968!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    While the EU dithers, Putin must be laughing his head off at them.

    Imagine a bully at work and the managers trying to decide how to deal with it, then all they do is say to the bully "don't do that, don't do that, please, don't do that" and then "now what do we do, I don't know"

    Well that sums up the EU sanctions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Fascinating to watch and to think that this has been planned very carefully by the Russian Government.
    The only wild card is how the west will behave.
    That is fairly predictable particularly as some of the players are in both houses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    98 MacTurk
    Yes, the Ukrainian people made their choice - in 2010 they elected Yanukovitch as President!
    A democratically elected leader was forced out by opposition protesters. The current leaders of Ukraine have no mandate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Comments here lead me to one of two conclusions:
    1 The FSB is attempting to influence bulletin boards on western media sites in an attempt to frame the debate and/or
    2 True commentators are so naive as to prefer to believe that the West coordinates lies as a collective group of disparate govt's rather than accept that an autocrat is manipulating events to his own ends. Depressing either way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    The facts are that the Yanukovitch's government had two options. The first, which he preferred, was integration with Russia. The second, which most Ukrainians preferred, was to move towards Europe by signing a trade deal with the EU.

    The Ukrainian people made their choice., and the thugocracy in Russia will not accept this.

    Sadly, the EU has no military options.


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