Europe ducks Russia sanctions debate despite war fears

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(Bloomberg) – The European Union is avoiding a panel discussion on specific sanctions for Russia if it invades Ukraine, even as it warns that Moscow would pay a steep price for an attack, according to people familiar with the matter.

A draft joint statement that EU foreign ministers will be asked to adopt on Monday is mostly limited to echoing what the bloc’s leaders agreed to last month. This is despite increased pressure from the United States to agree to a sanctions package as it mounts warnings that Russian troops could soon enter Ukraine.

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Much of any EU-wide response would have to be agreed by all 27 member states, and several governments want to avoid a group-wide debate for now, fearing it will herald differences potential, according to a person familiar with meetings this week. among senior diplomats. Some states have yet to see detailed proposals drafted by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, officials said.

The US and UK are among countries warning that action by President Vladimir Putin could come soon. Russia continues to amass troops and equipment on the Ukrainian border, even though it denies plans to invade. Talks involving Russia have stalled as Putin demands NATO security guarantees in return for de-escalating his buildup, and US and European officials say they are still unsure of his true intentions .

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Europe’s continued reluctance to discuss specific sanctions can only heighten concerns in Washington about a united front with Putin. Some European countries have expressed concern that hitting Russia hard could damage their own economies, or perhaps prompt Putin to cut off essential gas supplies to them.

The latest EU draft, which Bloomberg has seen, says that “any further Russian military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and significant costs.” It says potential sanctions include “a wide range of sectoral and individual restrictive measures that would be adopted in coordination with partners”, but currently does not go into detail.

The EU has accelerated preparatory work on potential sanctions, it adds. The plan could change before foreign ministers agree to it.

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The US, EU and several European governments have had a number of discussions about the specific sanctions they would adopt if Russia acts against Ukraine. Although there is now a broad understanding of the general objectives – covering restrictions on individuals, sanctions on banks and financial institutions as well as export controls on advanced technologies and key industries – there is no there is no joint agreement yet on all the details, two of the people said.

Some major Western European governments have offered exemptions to particular sanctions and are phasing in financial measures. These countries have also indicated that it is forbidden to exclude Russia from the Swift international payment system. The Biden administration has repeatedly said all options remain on the table.

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European and American officials familiar with the talks said concrete proposals would only be shared once Russia’s actions were known. The sanctions are reactive, not deterrent, and their nature and scope would depend on what Russia actually does, an EU official said.

Another person said that a set of proposals had largely been prepared.

The backdrop for the talks is growing increasingly tense as Putin shows no signs of backing down despite weeks of frantic diplomacy. Russia said this week it would move forces to Belarus next month for a series of military exercises running until February 20.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Ukraine and is going to Geneva on Friday to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Blinken has also been invited to join the EU ministerial meeting next week.

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“Our view is that this is an extremely dangerous situation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. “We are now at a stage where Russia could, at any time, launch an attack in Ukraine. I would say it is more brutal than we have been.

The United States and its European allies also discussed the range of possible actions by Moscow that could trigger retaliation. Besides sending troops to Ukraine, this could include any effort to stage a coup against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy or other acts aimed at destabilizing his government. They are also exploring ways to mitigate the impact that certain measures could have on their own economies, in particular on Europe’s energy imports.

Although the draft conclusions reaffirm the EU’s commitment to support Ukraine in the fight against cyber threats and disinformation, the members of the bloc have yet to find an agreement on the level of military assistance they could provide to Ukraine. While the United Kingdom and the United States have shipped defensive weapons to Ukraine, some European countries, such as Germany, have objected to arming Kiev even with defensive equipment.

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Mary I. Bruner