THE European Union was last night poised to impose new sanctions against Russia as one leader said Moscow was now “practically in a state of war with Europe”.
Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite delivered the stark message for Russian president Vladimir Putin as she arrived in Brussels for an EU summit.
Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko said before the summit of the EU’s 28 heads of state that a strong response was needed to the “military aggression and terror” facing his country.
“Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine,” he said in English. “There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole peace and stability of Europe.”
French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said upon their arrival in Brussels that the leaders will ask the EU executive, the European Commission, to finalise the legal fine print of new sanctions.
Grybauskaite added Russia’s stance on Ukraine, which seeks closer ties with the EU, amounts to a direct confrontation that requires stronger sanctions.
“It is the fact that Russia is in a war state against Ukraine. That means it is in a state of war against a country which would like to be closely integrated with the EU.
“Practically Russia is in a state of war against Europe,” she said.
“That means we need to help Ukraine to...defend its territory and its people and to help militarily, especially with the military materials to help Ukraine to defend itself because today Ukraine is fighting a war on behalf of all Europe,” the leader of the former Soviet republic said.
David Cameron has insisted there must be “consequences” if an estimated 1,000 Russian troops are not withdrawn from the east of Ukraine.
“We have to address the completely unacceptable situation of having Russian troops on Ukraine soil. Consequences must follow if that situation continues and we will be discussing that as well today,” he said.
EC president Jose Manuel Barroso said “sanctions are not an end in themselves,” but a means to dissuade Russia from further destabilising Ukraine.
“Russia should not underestimate the EU’s will and resolve to stand by its principles and values,” he said, adding that the escalation in the past week cannot go unpunished.
“The opening of new fronts and the use of Russian regular forces [on Ukrainian soi] is not acceptable and represents a grave transgression,” he added.
Nato estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine even though Putin denies any Russian military involvement in the fighting that has so far claimed 2,600 lives, according to United Nations figures.
Conceding ground in the face of a reinvigorated rebel offensive, Ukraine said yesterday that it was abandoning a city where its forces have been surrounded by rebels for days. Government forces were also pulling back from another it had claimed to have taken control of two weeks earlier.
The statements by Colonel Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the national security council, indicate Ukrainian forces face increasingly strong resistance from Russian-backed separatists just weeks after racking up significant gains and forcing rebels out of much of the territory they had held.
Poroshenko said Ukraine would welcome an EU decision to help with military equipment and further intelligence-sharing.
Barroso provided no specifics about which sanctions the heads of state and government might adopt to inflict more economic pain to nudge Russia toward a political solution.
“No-one’s interest is served by new wars on our continent,” Barroso said.
The United States and the EU have so far imposed sanctions against dozens of Russian officials, several companies and its financial industry. Moscow has retaliated by banning food imports.
Grybauskaite said the EU should impose a full arms embargo, including the cancelling of already agreed contracts. France has so far staunchly opposed that proposal because it has a £1 billion contract to build Mistral helicopter carriers for Russia.
New EU sanctions have to be agreed unanimously – a requirement that has in the past blocked or softened decisions since some nations fear the economic fallout. Russia is the EU’s third largest trading partner and one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers.
Barroso said that the EU – a free trade area encompassing 500 million people and stretching from Lisbon to the border with Ukraine – stands ready to grant Kiev further financial assistance if needed. The EU will also organise a donors’ conference at the end of the year to help rebuild Ukraine’s east, he added.
Ukraine claims jet shot down by Russian missile
UKRAINIAN forces have said that one of their fighter jets was shot down by a Russian missile while in combat against Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.
A military statement said the Su-25 was hit on Friday, and that the pilot ejected and was uninjured. The plane was hit by a missile from a Russian launcher.
Nato estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine, and Kiev claimed this week that hundreds of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles entered the country.
Russia consistently denies both that its forces are in Ukraine and allegations that it is supplying the rebels.
Rebels have taken control of the town of Novoazovsk with the apparent aim of pushing further west along the coast which connects Russia to the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine said yesterday that Russian tanks had flattened a town and pro-Russian rebels had made gains in its east.
Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists in Kiev that Russian tanks had entered the small town of Novosvitlivka on the border with Russia.“We have information that virtually every house has been destroyed,” Lysenko said, without saying when the reported attack took place. Ukraine’s daily military briefings typically cover the previous 24 hours.
“The Russians are continuing to send military equipment and ‘mercenaries’,” Ukraine’s defence and security council said in a separate Twitter post.
In other developments, Ukrainian forces have been surrounded by rebels in the town of Ilovaysk, about 15 miles east of the largest rebel-held city of Donetsk.
“We are surrendering this city,” Lysenko said. “Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup.”
Lysenko said that regular units of the military had been ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, which are both on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city.
Separately, the training camp of FC Shakhtar in Donetsk has been seriously damaged by shelling.
“Two shells hit directly into the main building destroying the upper level where the main squad of the team used to live,” said the club, who were crowned Uefa Cup champions in 2009.
“The leisure zone and the exercise room were completely destroyed. Fire brigades have been working hard all night to beat a huge blaze.”