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European Union hawks on Russia, led by Poland and Lithuania, have called for sanctions on Moscow after a new offensive by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
However, power-broker Germany took a more cautious line, with states such as Cyprus that are economically dependent on trade and tourism from both Russia and Ukraine, are reluctant to go down the path of sanctions.
The EU has called an foreign ministers for Thursday after separatists attacked Mariupol, a strategic Black Sea port, last Saturday with what NATO said was Russian support. Kiev said 30 civilians were killed.
The renewed fighting has put stronger sanctions back on the agenda a week after ministers discussed a memo by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini suggesting EU governments could start talking to Russia again on some issues if Moscow implemented a Ukraine peace agreement.
One EU diplomat said it seemed unlikely at this stage that ministers would adopt new sanctions on Thursday, with the most likely scenario being that they would ask officials to draw up possible further sanctions.
“The response of the Western world should be very firm,” Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said in Warsaw. “The EU response should be to deliberately raise the issue of toughening sanctions against Russia.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius added: “Many times we have said that if the situation in Ukraine gets worse, if Russia continues its aggressive actions, then we will impose additional sanctions. This is exactly what I expect from Thursday’s meeting.”
But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested Russia had not yet crossed the red line that would trigger more sanctions.
“A lot depends on how the next three days go. After the talks I’ve had in the last days with some European colleagues, nobody is desperately ambitious to meet in Brussels to impose sanctions,” he said.
A number of EU countries, including Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Austria, have only reluctantly gone down the sanctions route.