The EU has suspended talks on investment and visa-free travel with Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
After six hours of talks in Brussels on Thursday, European leaders warned they would consider further sanctions if Moscow refused to negotiate over a withdrawal from Crimea.
French President Francois Hollande spelt out what would happen: “if Russia takes measures that destabilise Ukraine – to put it more simply – that jeopeordise the Ukrainian sovereignty, then we will take further actions.”
Those further actions could include freezing Russian assets, a travel ban for senior officials and withdrawing from a G8 summit in Sochi in June.
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel said they were working closely with the US: “If you look at what the United States announced today, it is a so-called executive order from the president, regarding a possible visa ban and asset freeze. We are in close coordination with the United States on this.”
The EU also agreed to sign an association agreement with Ukraine, which includes free trade between the two, ahead of elections scheduled for May.
Euronews correspondent in Brussels James Franey says the EU’s tougher stance is clearly targeted at the Russian actions in Crimea and the planned referendum there. He adds that given the strategic importance of the region to Moscow, the question is whether the threat of future financial sanctions will be enough to convince Putin to change course.