EU Will Not Impose More Russia Sanctions Despite Concerns About Troop Buildup on Ukraine Border

Despite the buildup of thousands of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine, the European Union will not impose further sanctions against Moscow, according to the European Union's foreign policy chief.

"For the time being, there is no move in the field of more sanctions," Vice President of the European Commission, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said after a virtual meeting with EU foreign ministers on Monday, adding that with Russia building up its military presence on the border of Ukraine, any "spark" could set off confrontation.

"It is the highest military deployment of the Russian army on the Ukrainian borders ever. It's clear that it's a matter of concern when you deploy a lot of troops," Borrell said to reporters. "Well, a spark can jump here or there."

In his remarks on the bloc's relations with Russia, the foreign policy chief also said the EU would not request organized EU diplomatic expulsions in response to a standoff between the Czech Republic, an EU member state, and Russia following Prague's accusation that Moscow was involved in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion, the Associated Press reported.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Josep Borrell
Vice President of the European Commission, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said that a "spark" could set off confrontation as Russia builds up its military presence near Ukraine's borders. In the photo, Borrell holds a news conference in the EU Commission headquarters on March 10, 2021, in Brussels, Belgium. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Initially, Borrell told reporters that "there's more than 150,000 Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian borders and in Crimea," and doubled down on the figure later before his services had to correct it in the transcript, saying the real figure was over 100,000.

Nevertheless, Borrell said that "the risk of further escalation — it's evident."

Borrell declined to say where he got the initial 150,000 Russian troop number from, but called it "my reference figure." It was higher than the 110,000 estimate provided by Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran on Wednesday.

More than 14,000 people have died in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that erupted after Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The EU has steadfastly opposed the annexation but has been unable to do anything about it.

Efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled and violations of a shaky truce have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks across Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas.

Diplomats had expected there was little to no chance of immediate new sanctions on Moscow, but they now will seek to apply more pressure nevertheless through diplomacy.

"Moscow must switch from provocation to cooperation," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

And over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron said that while dialogue with Russia is essential, "clear red lines" carrying possible sanctions must also be drawn with Moscow over Ukraine.

"All in all, the relations with Russia, are not improving, but the contrary, the tension is increasing in different fronts," Borrell said.

"We call on Russia to withdraw their troops," Borrell said.