EU Ministers Threaten Sanctions on Russia, With Tougher Measures to Come

A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), Donetsk region on July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

European leaders threatened to impose new sanctions on Russia in response to the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that killed all 298 people on board last Thursday.

Twenty-eight foreign ministers met in Brussels today to discuss the crisis. The Associated Press reports that the EU will be imposing new sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes on people believed to be responsible for Russian action in Ukraine. 

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "Russia has not done enough to contribute to a de-escalation of the conflict," according to the Associated Press.

Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmersmans did not specify the names of those targeted, according to the AP, but he said ministers should prepare for more sanctions to be imposed, specifically on Russia’s arms, energy, and financial sectors. 

Timmersmans, initially hesitant to impose sanctions in order to smooth the process of returning bodies from the rebel-held area in Ukraine, is taking a significantly firmer stance, reports Reuters. The vast majority of victims in the crash, 193 people, were from the Netherlands.

"There is no Dutch blockade of further sanctions. The Netherlands wants that the European Union makes a united, and also strong, clear, statement against the unrest in eastern Ukraine," Timmersmans told reporters yesterday.

Reuters spoke to one EU diplomat who said that a list new names for discussion will be drawn up and distributed in time for Thursday. The list in question, which has names of Russian people and entities subject to EU sanctions for their role in Ukraine, was alread being kept open until the end of the month, so the question revolves around whether or not it will be expanded even further, reports The Guardian.

The new sanctions could put pressure on France in particular, because of its controversial arms sales, and, like many EU countries, the gas and oil trade. French President Francois Hollande has come under fire after confirming that the delivery of a state-of-the-art Mistral warship, the Vladivostok, to Moscow would go ahead, Reuters reports. Hollande has said that the delivery of another ship — the Sevastopol, the second in a €1.2 billion deal — is dependant on Russia’s behavior towards Ukraine. 

"For the time being, a level of sanctions has not been decided on that would prevent this delivery," Hollande said. "Does that mean the rest of the contract, the second Mistral, can be carried through? That depends on Russia's attitude."

The Guardian calls France “defiant” over its sale of helicopter carrier ships to Russia, a move that has particularly angered the United Kingdom. The U.K. is pursuing aggressive new sanctions against Russia, and Prime Minister David Cameron called the sale of a warship to Russia “unthinkable” in the U.K., a comment that has not gone down well in France. Along with the Britain, the U.S., Poland, Baltic states, and NATO allies have expressed concern over the contract. 

Cameron also vowed to blacklist the “cronies and oligarchs” who surround Russian President Vladimir Putin in a new round of economic sanctions, reports The Guardian. In response, French Socialist Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said Cameron should "start by cleaning up his own backyard," referring to the large number of Russian oligarchs living in London, many of whom have close ties to Putin, according to Reuters.

One of the main concerns over imposing sanctions is the dependency of many western European countries on Russia’s energy reserves, particularly natural gas. A CNN map shows that Germany gets 40 percent of its gas from Russia, while France gets 18 percent, and Italy 20 percent. Cameron commented on the “reluctance” of some European countries to take action against Russia, but the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt goes further, saying that cutting off Russian energy exports “could undermine fragile recovery in the eurozone.”