European Union governments aired differences over the scope and pace of sanctions against the Kremlin after Crimea’s referendum in favor of becoming part of Russia.
EU foreign ministers entered a Brussels meeting committed to imposing asset freezes and travel bans on the instigators of Crimea’s split with Ukraine, while divided over how close the blacklist should come to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
“I certainly hope that it will include Russian as well as Crimean names,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters. Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn spoke of a “limited list” and said the EU is likely to put a “time limit” on the measures.
European governments held out hope that Putin would use yesterday’s referendum as a bargaining chip in talks over greater autonomy for Crimea within Ukraine and wouldn’t seek to peel off other ethnically Russian regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Today’s measures will target individuals involved in Crimea’s breakaway. EU government leaders will weigh further steps such as potential trade, banking or investment restrictions at a two-day summit starting on March 20.
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said that around 20 Crimean and Russian officials would be on the initial blacklist. Austria’s Sebastian Kurz said today’s list would be restricted to officials “from the political realm, from the military realm, but I think it would be wrong to take random measures against business figures or other groups.”
Leaving out businesspeople such as Alexey Miller, chief executive officer of Russian natural-gas export monopoly OAO Gazprom, would be a political calculation that reflects the EU’s need for Russian energy.
Germany, which relies on Russia for 35 percent of its gas and oil imports, wants the EU to send a message that is “clearly understood in Russia but on the other hand keeps the possibilities open” for a negotiated settlement, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
Steinmeier called on the Kremlin to consent to an immediate observation mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to establish whether Russia is seeking to destabilize ethnically Russian areas of eastern and southern Ukraine.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the EU must pair “firmness” with pursuing “the path of dialogue.”
Eighteen days have elapsed since the first pro-Russian forces seized facilities in Crimea and 11 days since EU government leaders held an emergency summit to demand that Russia “immediately” pull back its armed forces and permit outside monitors.
Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania, under Soviet rule during the Cold War, voiced frustration with the EU’s slow pace of operating due to the need for all 28 governments to agree.
“I’m not very happy with the speed we’re working some times,” Linkevicius said. “They should be stopped now, not in two weeks.”