By ANDREW RETTMAN
Kiev is pressing ahead with plans to sue Russia for war crimes at the International Criminal Court
EU foreign ministers are keen to quickly add names to the Russia blacklist, according to draft conclusions of Thursday's (29 January) emergency meeting seen by EUobserver.
The text, circulated by the EU foreign service (EEAS) to capitals on Wednesday, says: “In view of the worsening situation, the [EU] Council agrees to extend the restrictive measures targeting persons and entities for threatening or undermining Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“It calls on the EEAS and the [European] Commission to present a proposal for decision within a week on additional listings”.
It also calls on them to undertake “further preparatory work … on further restrictive measures” in a threat of new economic sanctions.
The ministers plan to blame Russia for the rocket attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol last weekend, which killed 30 people - an accusation Russia denies.
“The Council strongly condemns the indiscriminate shelling of the residential areas in Mariupol … The Council notes evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia's responsibility”, the draft text notes.
It says any softening of the EU position depends on Russian compliance with the Minsk protocol - a September 2014 peace accord.
It notes that compliance requires “withdrawal of illegal and foreign armed groups, military equipment, fighters and mercenaries, securing the Ukrainian-Russian border with permanent monitoring by the OSCE [a Vienna-based watchdog], as well as early local elections in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions [in east Ukraine]”.
The FMs also take Russia to task for its war propaganda.
“Public statements distorting the reality on the ground, inciting to hatred and further violence, as well as publicly humiliating prisoners in violation of the international law will not lead to the badly needed de-escalation”, they plan to say.
Following calls by more than a dozen EU countries for the EU to take steps to counter the propaganda campaign, the conclusions add: “The Council tasks the high representative [EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini] to step up efforts to further improve strategic communication in response to the Russian misinformation activities”.
“Such efforts should include correcting misinformation when it appears, proactive communication of EU policies, and support for the further development of independent and democratic media throughout the Eastern Partnership [post-Soviet] region”.
Noting the cost of the war, the text says the conflict has displaced 1.5 million people in Ukraine, 600,000 of whom are “in dire need of assistance”.
It also “looks forward” to Ukraine “taking legal steps enabling the International Criminal Court [in The Hague] to examine the alleged crimes against humanity committed on the territory of Ukraine in 2014-2015”.
The ministers' conclusions and any new sanctions must be adopted by unanimity.
In the past, Austria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary, France, Luxembourg, and Slovakia, as well as the centre-left SPD party in the German coalition, had voiced reservations on going further.
Most of them fell in line with pro-sanction states at the last FMs’ meeting earlier this month.
All of them also subscribed to an EU leaders’ statement on Tuesday blaming Russia for the Mariupol attack.
But Greece has emerged as a wild card.
The new far-left/rightist coalition in Athens on Tuesday abjured the EU's Mariupol statement, while Greek daily Kathemerini, citing government sources, reported on Wednesday that Greece might “veto” new sanctions.
One EU diplomat called the Greek abjuration "just unbelievable".
The contact added that if Athens waters down the FMs' text "there's absolutely no point in having weak conclusions".
A second EU diplomat noted that Athens’ main EU battle is getting Germany to write off some of its debt. They said the Russia veto could be a bargaining chip in debt talks: “They are playing a tough bargaining game. Let’s see who blinks first".
The new Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, showed support for Russia before coming to power.
On a visit to Moscow last May he criticised EU sanctions as a “shot in the foot”, backed the Crimea “referendum” on independence, and said the pro-EU government in Kiev contains “neo-Nazis”.
Meanwhile, his new foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, in 2013 met with Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian academic who advocates mass killing of Ukrainians and expansion of Russian borders.
Kotzias (l) with Dugin (c) in Greece in April 2013
His deputy FM, Nikoloas Chountis, in his time as MEP voted against every Russia-critical resolution since the conflict began.
A third diplomatic source noted the “irony” of Tsipras’ recantation of the EU statement on Mariupol.
“The city contains the largest Greek minority population in Ukraine and even hosts a Greek consulate”, he said.
“So I wonder: What will he have to say if Russian forces expand their offensive in this direction?”.