Wall Street Journal: European Foreign Ministers Blame Russia for Eastern Ukraine Unrest


Updated April 14, 2014 2:41 p.m. ET

LUXEMBOURG—European Union foreign ministers agreed to expand the list of Russian officials targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the bloc's leaders could meet next week to further ratchet up pressure.

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore confirmed the bloc would expand targeted sanctions on Russian officials although Mr. Hague couldn't say how many people would be affected. EU officials will now work to draw up new sanctions targets.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Fabius said he hoped that a meeting of foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the U.S. on Thursday in Geneva would make real progress in scaling back tensions between Moscow and Kiev. He signaled that if it doesn't, Europe may increase the squeeze on Moscow.

Currently, 33 Russian officials and lawmakers are on the asset-freeze and travel-ban list.

"If it's necessary, there could be a meeting next week of heads of state and government which could agree to some new sanctions," Mr. Fabius said. "It is the position of France, it is the position of Europe to increase the pressure without making dialogue impossible."

Over the weekend, pro-Russian protests spread in eastern Ukraine as armed men, some in unmarked, military-style uniforms, moved to commandeer more government buildings—a dramatic escalation that the Ukrainian government and Washington tied to Moscow.

The EU warned in a statement that if Russia takes further steps to destabilize Ukraine, the 28-nation bloc will unleash much broader "far-reaching" financial, economic and military sanctions. Officials have made clear previously that only heads of government can authorize these broader sanctions.

Ukraine's acting president said he wasn't opposed to a countrywide referendum on possibly granting regions greater autonomy after a deadline for pro-Russian protesters to leave buildings they have seized in eastern Ukraine passed on Monday. Photo: Getty Images

A number of EU foreign ministers pinned the blame for the latest unrest in eastern Ukraine on Russia. "What has happened in Ukraine over the last 48 hours is clearly a further escalation of the crisis in Ukraine and it is a very dangerous one because, of course, it could lead to further measures being taken on both sides," said Mr. Hague.

"There is very little doubt…that this is something that has been planned and brought about by Russia. The forces involved are well armed, well trained, well equipped," he added.

On Monday, Russia's Foreign MinisterSergei Lavrov insisted that Russia has none of its forces inside Ukraine.

"We do not interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine. It is against our interests. We do not have our agents there," he said.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said he hoped Russia would use Thursday's Geneva meeting to exit the crisis although he said the bloc wasn't ready yet to agree to broader financial, economic and energy sanctions.

"I truly hope that Russia will now look for a way out of this situation and not continue escalating it because if you see what is happening in eastern Ukraine you can only be extremely worried about the near future," he told reporters.

Soon after the meeting started, foreign ministers approved the lifting of customs duties on most Ukrainian industrial exports to the 28-nation bloc. The measure, which will come into effect at the end of April, will save Ukrainian firms hundreds of millions of dollars in coming months.

The bloc also approved an additional €1 billion ($1.39 billion) in budget support for Ukraine on Monday.

EU foreign ministers also agreed to task the EU's executive, the European Commission, with replying on behalf of the region to a letter sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin to 18 European heads of government this past Thursday.

Mr. Putin warned that gas exports to Ukraine could eventually be cut and that European consumers may be affected by that.

The ministers expressed "deep concern regarding the unilateral increase of gas prices applied to Ukraine" and urged the two sides to negotiate "the price and conditions of gas supplies."

The EU also promised to press ahead with the signing of a broad trade and economic agreement with Ukraine once presidential elections are held May 25. They also agreed to consider some kind of police and anticorruption mission for Ukraine and make a decision as early as next month.

The White House said Saturday it was concerned about the recent events and warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against using them as a pretext for seizing more Ukrainian territory. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concern in a phone call with Mr. Lavrov. The White House said that Vice President Joe Biden would travel to Ukraine for meetings with government leaders and others in the country on April 22.

—Gregory L. White and Lukas I Alpert contributed to this article.


Write to Laurence Norman at


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