European foreign ministers met Monday to coordinate what they warn would be an unprecedented economic sanctions regime if Russia launches a new military assault into Ukraine.
Following a meeting of G7 ministers in Liverpool at the weekend, where the U.S. and major allies warned the Kremlin of “massive” consequences, the 27 EU ministers gathered in Brussels.
They were expected to approve a list of names and companies associated with Russia’s private military company Wagner to be added immediately to existing sanctions regimes.
And they will signal their readiness to impose huge new measures targeting Russia’s economy if a troop build-up near the Ukrainian border leads to direct military action.
The ministers are also expected to discuss whether or not European capitals will join a US-led diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics in February, to protest Chinese rights abuses.
“Yesterday we had the G7,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, arriving at the talks.
“There was a strong agreement, position in order to have a strong stance behind Ukraine, defending their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We will send a clear signal that any aggression against Ukraine will have a high cost for Russia,” he said, insisting that Brussels will coordinate any action with London and Washington.
Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landsbergis stressed that the sanctions threat was a deterrent but that, if they proved necessary, they would have to be on an “unprecedented scale”.
The meeting on Monday was the first EU foreign affairs council for Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, a Green politician who came to office last week in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s new coalition.
– Persecuted minority –
Berlin holds one of the most important cards in the sanctions deck, if it decides that President Vladimir Putin’s actions warrant blocking the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
Asked about the threat to Ukraine before heading to Brussels, Baerbock told ZDF television that “in the event of further escalation, this gas pipeline could not come into service.”
The talks on Monday will also help prepare for the EU leader’s meeting with the “Eastern Partnership” — Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan — on Wednesday.
Belarus has been excluded from this group after the EU accused strongman Alexander Lukashenko of rigging his re-election, but opposition leaser Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is in Brussels
Brussels wants to present its eastern neighbors with a united front against what it sees has Russia’s destabilizing meddling in the region, a senior European diplomat told AFP.
But against China — accused of persecuting the Uyghur minority, threatening Taiwan and cracking down on freedoms in Hong Kong — there is less agreement between EU capitals.
The United States and some of Washington’s allies have announced that it will not send diplomats or top officials to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, in protest against China’s actions.
But Europe is divided.
“I am always in favor of a European approach, but sometimes it is hard to find,” admitted Landsbergis, whose government is in dispute with China over the opening of a Taiwanese mission in Vilnius.
His Luxembourg counterpart, Jean Asselborn said a diplomatic boycott would not be helpful.
“I share France’s position,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that a purely diplomatic boycott would be “a very small and symbolic measure.”