By Sabine Siebold and Ingrid Melander
BRUSSELS -The European Union joined calls on Monday for Russia not to annex or recognise breakaway Ukrainian regions, threatening to impose sanctions should Moscow do so.
Ignoring the warnings, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin told France’s and Germany’s leaders during phone calls on Monday that he planned to sign a decree recognising the two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent entities shortly.
“If there is annexation, there will be sanctions, and if there is recognition, I will put the sanctions on the table and the ministers will decide,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Borrell was speaking before the Kremlin gave a readout of Putin’s calls and confirmed he told France’s president and Germany’s chancellor that he planned to recognise the breakaway regions’ independence.
Borrell’s wording signalled it may be more difficult for the EU, whose members have different interests and views on how to deal with Moscow, to agree on a joint position, and sanctions, in case of recognition than it would have been for a full-fledged annexation.
“We call on President Putin to respect international law,” Borrell said. “We are ready to react with a strong united front in case he should decide” to ignore these calls, he said.
Western countries fear a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine in recent weeks is a prelude to an invasion, which Moscow denies.
The United States and European allies have said any attack would trigger severe sanctions against Moscow, but Kyiv wants these to be imposed now, its Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in Brussels earlier on Monday.
“We believe that there are good and legitimate reasons to impose at least some of the sanctions now to demonstrate that the European Union is not only talking the talk about sanctions, but is also walking the walk,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the EU ministers backed plans announced last month for a 1.2 billion euro financial aid loan package for Ukraine, and also agreed in principle to a long-standing Ukrainian request for a small-scale mission of military instructors to help train officers.