EU leaders split over arms embargo against Russia

BRUSSELS (Wall Street Journal) — As European Union foreign ministers gathered for their first meeting since a passenger plane crash over eastern Ukraine, a more pronounced split emerged between those arguing it was time to transform completely Europe’s relationship with Russia and those holding back.

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Some ministers proposed actions such as an arms embargo, or the designation of pro-Russian separatist groups as terrorist organizations. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said “the world has changed” and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said the EU needs to “wake up.”

More quietly, the debate was colored by a fear that harsh actions could prompt the separatists who control the crash site to make it harder for international workers to recover the passengers’ bodies, though greater access was provided in recent hours.

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Frans Timmermans, the Dutch foreign minister, suggested the Netherlands and Europe will need to accept the economic consequences of imposing tougher sanctions on Russia after the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight, which took the lives of almost 300 people.

“This is no longer a question of the economy and trade,” Mr. Timmermans said before entering the meeting. “This is a question of security, it’s a question of Europe’s geostrategic interests, and it’s a question of justice for the nearly 200 Dutch people who lost their lives.”

All options are on the table, Mr. Timmermans added. The ministers were expected at a minimum to adopt a policy targeting those who support Russian decision makers. That is a broad category that could cover virtually any Russian oligarch, and the EU would likely decide later in the week who exactly would be hit.

Tuesday’s meeting will show whether anger over the crash and its aftermath propels the ministers to go further.

Speaking on her way into the meeting, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the ministers have “a number of possibilities,” adding that they are determined to keep up pressure on Russia. “Go forward they will—and must,” she said.

The meeting is the first EU gathering since 298 people were killed following the suspected shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Baroness Ashton said the top priority was the return of those who were killed to their home countries. She confirmed the ministers will discuss broadening the legal basis of EU sanctions on Russia and the separatists, allowing fresh people and companies to be targeted.

Expanding the reach of the sanctions could allow the bloc to target some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, including oligarchs closely tied to the government and Mr. Putin’s top advisers. It could also allow the bloc to target for the first time Russia-based companies, a move that a number of ministers said Tuesday was now likely.

It isn’t yet clear if the foreign ministers will decide on the specific sanctions targets on Tuesday. Baroness Ashton said the bloc “will be guided” in their actions by Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, whose country lost 193 people on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.

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About Kelvin Ching

I'm a professional Forex trader and I have been trading for over 7 years. I was a series 3 broker and a registered CTA with the NFA, the main regulatory agency in the United States, and I have been involved at the highest levels in commodity trading. I also have a background in Information Technology, graphics design, and programming... I'm the co-founder of CurrencyNewsTrading.com, a site dedicated to fundamental analysis and news trading.

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