EU foreign ministers mull Russia sanctions

Brussels is considering new sanctions on Russia to deter it from invading Ukraine. Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, urged unity but said this should not dilute the strength of the EU’s response.

The European Union is discussing a possible new round of economic sanctions on Russia, but the bloc’s top diplomat said no decisions would be taken on Monday as national foreign ministers gathered in Brussels.

EU envoys have repeated that strong measures would be taken if Russia’s military launches a full invasion of Ukraine. Tensions have heightened in recent weeks over Russia’s growing military presence near the border with Ukraine.

What is being considered?

The European Union, which imposed economic sanctions on Russia in July 2014 over the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, targeting its energy, banking and defense sectors, is considering its options.

EU diplomats have suggested a gradual ramping up of measures that could include travel bans and the freezing of assets for members of Russia’s political elite.

The bloc is expected to approve a list of names and companies to be added immediately to existing sanctions regimes.

The sanctioning of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany is also on the table, as well as the further targeting of Russia’s state-owned defense and energy companies. Other contracts for natural gas could also be considered.

However, the strongest of the measures are more likely to be invoked if Russia actually invades Ukraine.

“We are in deterrent mode,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, told reporters as he arrived for the meeting of EU foreign ministers.

“In any case, we will send a clear signal that any aggression against Ukraine will have a high cost for Russia,” said Borrell, adding that the measures were being studied alongside the US and UK so that coordinated action could be taken.

Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said the Wagner Group — a Russian paramilitary organization thought to be operating in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine — was a probable target for sanctions.

Germany’s Baerbock: Unity should not mean weakness

Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, arriving for her first summit with EU counterparts, maintained that the bloc needed a unified response.

However, she said, the need for coherence should not mean a watered-down response.

“A strong Europe must not allow itself to be weakened by unanimity on foreign policy issues,” Baerbock said. A common European foreign policy, she said, could not be “the sum of the lowest common denominator.”

Baerbock on Sunday said the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would not be allowed to operate if the situation in Ukraine worsened significantly.

“In the event of further escalation this gas pipeline could not come into service,” Baerbock told German television station ZDF, clarifying earlier threats made by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The comments came after Baerbock attended a G7 meeting in the English city of Liverpool about tensions with Russia.

Baerbock said the pipeline could not be approved in any case at present because it does not comply with EU energy legislation or meet safety concerns.



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