BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers today moved toward imposing more sanctions on Russia over its role in the breakaway of Ukraine’s Crimea region, setting up a target list of people linked to the secession of the peninsula.
The 28-nation EU condemned the Crimea referendum which overwhelmingly backed a return to Russia, and the EU foreign ministers were expecting to have agreed a full list of individuals to target for asset freezes and travel bans by late today.
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Because Russian support of the secession of Crimea has continued unabated, “sanctions will become inevitable,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague hinted more measures against Russia could be taken at a summit of EU leaders starting Thursday, further widening the rift between the wary trading partners that had been seeking closer contact for years until the Ukraine crisis. The United States is also prepared to impose additional penalties on Russia.
At the same time, ministers suggested they wanted to keep any punitive measures from being too drastic, hoping to keep Russia within diplomatic earshot to find a solution to the crisis.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said any measure must leave “ways and possibilities open to prevent a further escalation that could lead to the division of Europe.”
Steinmeier pushed again for Russia to accept the sending of an impartial observer mission to eastern and southern Ukraine “to observe closely whether Russia is still active beyond Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine.”
The EU has already suspended talks with Russia on a wide-ranging economic pact and a visa agreement. Following the likely travel bans and asset freezes of key individuals involved in the secession, EU leaders could start slapping economic sanctions on Russia this weekend.
“I hope the Russians will realize that sanctions will hurt everyone, but no one more than the Russians themselves,” said Timmermans.