Merkel Wielding EU Sanctions Presses Yanukovych on Talks

European Union governments used the threat of sanctions to press Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych on talks with the opposition amid escalating violence between security forces and protesters.

With the death toll climbing, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland traveled to Kiev today to sound out the prospect of compromise in negotiations with Yanukovych that lasted about six hours. Russian President Vladimir Putin will send an envoy to Ukraine for talks with the opposition at Yanukovych’s request, Interfax reported.

The diplomatic activity now shifts to Brussels, where EU foreign ministers are meeting to debate imposing sanctions on Ukrainian government officials. Visa restrictions, asset freezes, a ban on arms exports to Ukraine and on equipment that could be used for “repressive measures” are among the steps under consideration, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said.

“They need to be targeted at those who are responsible for the deaths in the streets and for the violence,” Gilmore told reporters in Brussels as he arrived for the meeting. “The situation is very serious and it’s worsening.”

Death Toll

Clashes erupted early this morning in the Ukrainian capital, undermining a truce declared last night by Yanukovych and opposition leaders. The Health Ministry said on its website that at least 28 people had died and hundreds were injured in this week’s violence, while the opposition Svoboda party put the death toll at more than 60.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Ukraine’s president today to urge all sides to end the violence and implement a truce. She and French President Francois Hollande backed the threat of sanctions yesterday.

The “main responsibility for this lies with the leadership of the state,” Merkel told Yanukovych, according to an statement e-mailed by her spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Only talks on forming a new government and pursuing constitutional reform with “swift, substantial results” can yield a lasting solution, she said. “Any playing for time will further intensify the conflict and bears unpredictable risks.”

Foreign Ministers Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland and Laurent Fabius of France briefed EU foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton from Kiev, the EU Council said in a Twitter posting. The three envoys met with opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko before their talks with Yanukovych.

Cease-Fire, Amnesty

Putin will send Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to Kiev for talks with the opposition, Interfax reported, citing Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The three EU foreign ministers were on a mission “to make an attempt to bring the two sides to the table,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said on Germany’s ZDF television. “If that process doesn’t happen, we will have to think about sanctions.”

Ukraine needs a cease-fire, an amnesty for political prisoners, a transitional government and a commitment to parliamentary reform, Andreas Schockenhoff, Merkel’s former coordinator for German-Russian relations, said during a debate on Ukraine in the lower house of parliament in Berlin today.

The EU’s immediate aim is an end to the bloodshed in Ukraine, not Yanukovych’s removal, Schulz said. “The president won’t resign and the people who are demanding his resignation don’t have any way to force him,” he said.

The EU’s options to influence events in Ukraine are limited after Yanukovych rejected an EU trade and association deal, said Stefan Meister, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“We’ve had a lot of talk, talk, talk,” he said in a phone interview. The EU “underestimated the situation in Ukraine, they underestimated Russia and they overestimated their own offer” of closer ties. “And then they had no Plan B. This was the starting point of the problem.”

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