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European media reported on Tuesday the US administration met EU members’ ambassadors behind closed doors a day earlier to exert pressure on its European allies for economic sanctions against Russia amid the Ukraine crisis.
The White House did not officially confirm or deny the reports. The press officer Josh Ernest declined to comment on the meetings on Tuesday, whereas the Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki and Vice-President Joseph Biden officially stated on the same day that Washington continued working on anti-Russian sanctions coordinated with the EU.
Meanwhile, on Monday the Ukrainian authorities assembled EU ambassadors in Kiev to persuade them that Russia supplies weapon and military equipment to the militia. Some evidence was provided, report the European media, but as usual, no details are disclosed.
Against this background, the Ukrainian media are actively spreading the local police statements accusing Russia of plotting a direct intrusion and destroying military transport aircraft An-26, which was shot down by the militia, from its territory. Another trump card played to press the EU was the minister of the interior Anton Gerashchenko’s demand on July 14 that the EU prohibits entrance to its member countries for heads of Russian TV companies and the leading journalists because of incorrect coverage of the Ukrainian civil war.
Notably, NATO headquarters joined the campaign to fuel anti-Russian sentiment ahead of the summit with new reports of high concentration of Russian servicemen on the border with Ukraine.
In the meantime, EU members Britain, the Baltics and Poland are also involved in making plans how to push through possibly tougher sanctions against Russia at the summit. Sources report the countries’ ambassadors to Brussels are actively promoting this decision at the EU Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER), while the foreign ministers discuss the issue in phone calls with counterparts from other EU countries. Moreover, several bi- and multilateral meetings among the EU leaders will take place behind closed doors on Wednesday before the summit opening.
This ultimatum against Russia was adopted less than three weeks ago at the previous EU summit in Brussels on June 27 after signing the economic section of the EU association agreement with Ukraine. The EU demanded that Russia created a mechanism to monitor implementation of the ceasefire in Ukraine’ east and ensure effective control over the border observed by the OSCE mission. The second demand is that the border checkpoints Izvarino, Dolzgansky and Krasny Partizan are given back to the government forces. Then, the militia should release all hostages, including the OSCE observers. Finally, Russia is expected to start comprehensive negotiations to realize Poroshenko’s peace plan.
Otherwise, the EU leaders said, they would revisit discussion of sanctions.
Of these, only one condition has been definitely fulfilled - Russia’s efforts helped release OSCE observers. The ceasefire condition lost any sense once the Ukrainian army resumed large-scale military actions. As for border control demand, the EU countries deem it unfulfilled. And, as mentioned above, Kiev is actively trying to persuade Brussels that weapons come to the militia across the border.
Hence, the failure to hold video talks ahead of the EU summit means one more condition has not been implemented. All this happens amid the obvious escalation and increasing violence, with casualties already amounting to hundreds. In this situation, the EU may be forced to take at least nominal prohibitive measures to demonstrate its active stance on the conflict in Ukraine.
The EU will again expand the black list for Ukraine and Russia that already includes 72 people, among them Russian top officials and leaders of federalization supporters in Ukraine, who are not allowed to enter the EU and use European banks’ services until November. Yet this measure adopted as early as March has already proved fruitless, so European leaders will have to consider additional steps worked out in the European Commission and the European External Action Service in May.
According to sources in diplomatic circles, the summit will consider suspension of financing projects in Russia via residual support programs. Yet even this will be hardly perceivable as the programs up to 2020 amount to 447 million euros.
Another step could be temporary freeze of the planned projects for Russia financed through the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB), with realization of the ongoing projects to be continued. This is the measure that can have an effect as last year the banks allocated about $2.5 billion and $1.4 billion respectively. However, limiting EBRD financing would be a controversial step as the bank has 64 shareholders, including Russia that holds a 4.5% share, whereas 28 EU countries, the US and Canada notably hold a controlling stake.
Another European Commission’s proposal is to ban providing Russia with dual-use high technologies that can be used in the military sphere.
Which of these possible measures can be realized, is up to EU leaders. The summit promises to be a platform for heated debates, where sanctions can be only adopted in consensus. We’ll see no sectoral economic bans similar to sanctions against Iran but the leaders might be forced to approve less hard measures under pressure of Washington, Kiev, their eastern European allies in the EU as well as their own commitments to support the Ukrainian incumbents.