Calls for new EU sanctions on Russia

MOSCOW/KERCH: Several senior European politicians on Tuesday raised the possibility of new sanctions against Russia to punish it for capturing three Ukrainian vessels at sea, an incident the West fears could ignite a wider conflict.
Financial markets have responded to the prospect of new Western sanctions that could hurt Russia’s economy, though the rouble on Tuesday clawed back some losses from the previous day as investors bet any sanctions would not be swift.
After Russia opened fire on and seized the Ukrainian boats and crews on Sunday near Crimea — which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — Moscow and Kiev have tried to pin the blame on each other.
President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Monday that Moscow was ready to provide more details to bolster its version of events. Moscow says Kiev deliberately provoked it in order to trigger a crisis.
Merkel, who also spoke on Monday with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, called for de-escalation and dialogue.
Ukraine has introduced martial law for 30 days in parts of the country it deems most vulnerable to an attack from Russia. It has said its ships did nothing wrong and that it wants the West to impose new sanctions on Moscow. Some of the 24 Ukrainian sailors held by Russia for straying into Russian waters appeared on Russian state TV on Tuesday admitting to being part of a pre-planned provocation. Kiev denounced what it described as forced confessions.
A court in Crimea ordered two of the Ukrainian sailors to be detained for two months. It was expected to hand down similar verdicts for the others.
Their vessels were captured by Russian forces at sea near the Kerch Strait, which is the only outlet to the Sea of Azov and controls access to two major Ukrainian ports.
A Reuters reporter at the Crimean port of Kerch where the vessels are being held saw masked armed men on board one of the ships removing boxes of ammunition. Two Russian police officers with automatic rifles stood on the pier where the Ukrainian vessels were moored. The vessels bore traces of collisions and big holes in places.
Senior German conservative Norbert Roettgen, a close Merkel ally, said the European Union may need to toughen its sanctions against Russia, imposed partly over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
Karin Kneissl, Foreign Minister of Austria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said the EU would consider sanctions depending “on the exposition of facts and the further conduct of both parties”.
Poland and Estonia, both hawkish on Russia, expressed support for more sanctions. Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki said the incident in the Kerch vindicated Warsaw’s call for a more unified Western stance towards Russia.
— Reuters