European Union leaders are poised to impose new sanctions against Russia as Ukraine’s president warns the conflict with Moscow threatens peace and stability for Europe as a whole.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Saturday the EU was prepared to toughen sanctions against Russia but added that the bloc also wanted a political deal to end the confrontation.
At a news conference in Brussels with Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, Barroso, who said on Friday he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone to condemn significant incursions by Russian forces into Ukraine, said the situation was getting close to the point of no return.
Barroso made it clear the EU would take a twin track approach, which would entail threatening stronger sanctions against Russia while keeping the door to negotiations open.
He stressed that the EU was running out of patience and that Russia was adopting a very high risk strategy.
Poroshenko, who on Wednesday cancelled a trip to Turkey amid reports that Russian forces were on Ukrainian soil, said a strong EU response was needed because his country is subject to “military aggression and terror”.
“Thousand(s) of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told reporters.
“There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine but for the whole peace and stability of Europe.”
NATO estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine even though Russia denies any military involvement in the fighting that has so far claimed 2,600 lives, according to UN figures.
The United States and the EU have so far imposed sanctions against dozens of Russian officials, several companies and the country’s financial industry. Moscow has retaliated by banning food imports.
New EU sanctions have to be agreed unanimously – a requirement that has in the past blocked or softened decisions since some nations fear the economic fallout.
Russia is the EU’s third-largest trading partner and one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers.