Merkel Says Sanctions Unavoidable Should Russia Refuse to Budge

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a round of European Union sanctions against Russia are “unavoidable” if President Vladimir Putin’s government fails to take steps to defuse the crisis over Ukraine.

Merkel, meeting in Warsaw today with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, reiterated her March 17 deadline for Russia to accept her government’s overtures for a diplomatic “contact group” to resolve the crisis. EU foreign ministers are prepared to draft a series of measures including asset freezes and visa curbs at the beginning of next week, she said.

“We have to recognize, even though we will continue to move forward with this attempt to form a contact group, that we’ve made no progress,” Merkel told reporters alongside Tusk. The threat of sanctions isn’t tied directly to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea, rather to Putin’s refusal to take up the contact group, she said.

The most effective form of EU pressure on Russia “will be aid to Ukraine to save it from collapse,” said Tusk, citing financial assistance and help in paying down debt that was discussed with Merkel. The EU must be ready for a worsening of the crisis that “will last longer than we think,” he said.

The Polish and German governments have played a front line role in the Western diplomacy aimed at resolving the crisis in Ukraine, which shares a border with Poland. Tusk, who has criticized Germany’s dependence on Russia gas, said that he and Merkel agreed on all key issues including “more energy cooperation with Ukraine and more solidarity on the issue of gas supplies in Europe.”

Association Treaty

The German leader urged the Ukrainian government to sign the political portion of the association treaty with the EU. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s blocking of the treaty last November was the trigger for the uprising that brought down his government last month. Tusk said the pact will probably be signed at a March 20-21 EU summit in Brussels.

Germany joined the U.S. and the other Group of Seven nations to accuse Russia of trampling on international law by moving to annex Crimea. The absorption of Crimea into Russia “could have grave implications,” the G-7 said in a joint statement.

As Ukraine warns of Russia troops massing on its eastern border, Merkel ruled out any military engagement.

“We’re in the 21st century,” Merkel said. “We don’t resolve our conflicts militarily; we’ve said that. But we’re also not going to avoid conflicts.”

“The key is European and transatlantic unity,” Tusk said. “If we can sustain that, then sooner or later we can achieve the desired results without the risk of war.”

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