The European Union will refrain from targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin himself as it prepares possible asset freezes and travel bans on Russians deemed responsible for the crisis in Ukraine, the French foreign minister said.
“Those around him can be targeted,” Laurent Fabius told France Info radio today in Paris. “If a country acts in such a way that it doesn’t respect borders, our relations can’t remain the same.”
The comments highlight the balancing act the 28-nation EU is engaged in as it seeks to punish Russia for asserting control over the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea while pursuing a diplomatic settlement with the Kremlin.
EU leaders decided yesterday in Brussels to halt trade and visa negotiations with Russia, the first of three possible EU sets of measures against the Russian government to protest its policies toward Ukraine. That move followed an EU order freezing European bank accounts of 18 people associated with Ukraine’s former pro-Russian regime, including ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, and a U.S. decision restricting visas for Ukrainian officials and others, including Russians, it regards as a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The second set of possible EU measures against Russia involves the asset freezes and travel bans, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders might impose before their next scheduled meeting on March 20-21. She said this would depend on whether a “contact group” proposed by the EU to hold roundtable talks is established within days and produces results.
Any third phase of EU measures would result from “further destabilizing” steps by Russia in Ukraine and would signal a basic shift in EU ties with Russia, according to Merkel. Such sanctions have yet to be determined.
“There will be far-reaching change in our relations with Russia -- possibly including a broad palette of economic measures -- if Russia takes further destabilizing measures in Crimea in addition to those already undertaken, or takes military action,” Merkel said yesterday in Brussels. “I hope it doesn’t get to that point.”
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