AFP — EU foreign ministers agreed Tuesday to speed up wider sanctions against Russia and to examine tougher measures, including in the defense sector, after the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 allegedly by pro-Moscow rebels.
Ministers decided to accelerate the “targeted measures agreed” at an EU leaders summit last week, which had set an end-July deadline, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said, adding that officials would now submit the new list on Thursday.
This list would notably include “entities and persons, including from the Russian Federation,” for providing “material or financial support” to those responsible for the March annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory and destabilizing the east of the country, where MH17 came down.
Ashton said the European Union was also prepared to do even more, amid calls led by Britain that it move to more far-reaching “Phase 3″ sanctions targeting economic sectors and an arms embargo, a real step up from the current “Phase 2″ asset freezes and visa bans against 72 Russian and Ukrainian figures.
The EU “remains ready to introduce without delay a package of further significant restrictive measures” if Russia does not reverse course and cut the flow of fighters and material across the border into eastern Ukraine, a statement said.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and Ashton’s own service would “finalize their preparatory work on possible targeted measures and… present proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defense, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector.”
These proposals would also be submitted Thursday, the statement added.
It was not immediately clear if such measures count as Phase 3 measures which would require another EU leaders summit for approval.
Brussels has come under increasing US pressure, as well as from Britain and the former Communist states who joined the EU in recent years, to do a lot more, especially after the downing of MH17 with the loss of nearly 300 lives.
Britain’s call for an arms embargo, however, is particularly embarrassing for France, in the middle of selling two Mistral warships to Russia worth 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion).
French President Francois Hollande on Monday said the agreement was still in place but suggested that delivery of the second Mistral ship would “depend on Russia’s attitude.”
France has been unhappy at Britain’s stance on the arms sale, pointing out in turn the British government has not acted to prevent Russian firms raising fresh funds in London, a key step.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Tuesday’s meeting had recognized that MH17 marked a real change and meant the EU had to go further than what leaders agreed last week.
He added however that any arms embargo would apply to new arms contracts only.
The current Mistral sale was up to France to decide, he said, adding that the “important thing is that we are taking clear steps forward.”