By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times
LONDON — Europe’s top diplomats huddled behind closed doors Tuesday to try to agree on tougher action against Russia after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by a suspected Russian missile.
Consensus on increased sanctions against Moscow could prove elusive given many European countries’ trading ties with Russia and the region’s fragile economy.
Britain is leading the charge for stiffer penalties, saying that Moscow needs to suffer consequences for fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine that resulted in pro-Russian separatists allegedly shooting down the airliner, killing all 298 people aboard.
“This terrible incident happened in the first place because of Russia’s support to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, because of the flow of heavy weapons from Russia into eastern Ukraine,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in Brussels, before a meeting of foreign ministers from the European Union’s 28 member states.
“I shall be urging my colleagues and our partners to send a very clear and strong signal to Russia today,” Hammond said, adding: “Everybody wants to see a balanced set of measures as we go forward, but the world has changed” in the last few days.
Other European nations such as Italy and Germany have been reluctant to crack down too harshly on Moscow for fear of damaging their economies or jeopardizing their imports of Russian gas.
Signs of greater cooperation by pro-Russia separatists with the international investigation into the jetliner crash and with the repatriation of victims’ bodies could also sap European will to impose tougher sanctions against Russia.
So far, the EU has issued financial freezes and travel restrictions against dozens of Russian and Crimean political and military officials, but has stopped short of the broader measures that the United States has taken against Russian financial institutions and companies. Washington has urged the EU to show more resolve in sanctioning Russia.
European officials who champion tougher measures say an embargo on sales of military goods to Russia would be a sensible step. But others balk at the idea, including France, which does not want to cancel its $1.6-billion contract to supply two advanced warships to Russia.
“We should’ve had an arms embargo quite some time ago,” said Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister. “To deliver arms to Russia in this situation is somewhat difficult to defend, to put it mildly.”
The outcome of Tuesday’s meeting in Brussels could hinge on the wishes of the Netherlands, which lost more of its citizens — nearly 200 — on the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight than any other nation. The Dutch government has not indicated exactly what it wants to see done regarding Russia, except to say that “all political, economic, and financial options are on the table.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top diplomat, will chair the gathering of foreign ministers and said the Dutch minister would be given the chance to speak first at the meeting.
AFP Photo / Maxim Shipenkov
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