European Union leaders are likely to threaten Russia with new sanctions over Ukraine on Saturday but, fearful of a new Cold War and self-inflicted harm on their own economies, should give Moscow another chance to make peace.
At a summit in Brussels that may hand one of the Union’s top jobs to Poland’s premier and give hawkish Kremlin critics in ex-communist Eastern Europe new influence in the bloc, EU officials gave Ukraine’s embattled President Petro Poroshenko a warm welcome and assurances of further economic and other support.
But divisions among the 28 EU nations have hampered action against Moscow, and officials expect a decision on Saturday only to ask the bloc’s executive arm to prepare more options for sanctions.
Large Western countries are wary of damaging their own economies. Those include Germany, Britain and France, as well as Italy, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas and expects to secure the post of EU foreign affairs chief.
Poroshenko gave short shrift to Moscow denials by denouncing the past week’s incursion of thousands of troops with hundreds of armored vehicles and said he expected the summit to order the European Commission to prepare a new set of sanctions.
But, like Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, he used their joint news conference to stress a will to find a political solution to a crisis that Russian President Vladimir Putin blames on Kiev’s drive to turn the ex-Soviet state away from Moscow influence, into a Western alliance with the EU and NATO.
With Ukrainian forces battling pro-Russian separatists and, apparently, Russian troops, he said he was not looking for foreign military intervention and that he was expecting progress toward peace as early as Monday – because failure could push the conflict to a point of no return: “Let’s not try to spark the new flame of war in Europe,” Poroshenko said.
Barroso also warned of the risk of a “point of no return” in stressing that EU leaders wanted to defuse the confrontation with their nuclear-armed neighbor.
“It makes no sense to have … a new Cold War,” Barroso said. Further conflict would hurt all of Europe, he said, adding that sanctions were meant only to push Moscow to talk.
He highlighted economic support for Ukraine and also plans for negotiations with Moscow and Kiev aimed at ensuring Russian gas continues to flow through Ukraine to the West this winter.