The EU foreign ministers, who met in Brussels on Monday (17 November), opted to blacklist some “separatists” but expressed their willingness to restart talks with Moscow. Also, mere two days after NATO accused Russia of sending fresh troops into Ukraine, the foreign ministers in their joint statement called for “a withdrawal of all illegal and foreign forces” from Ukraine and tasked the European Commission and the European External Action Service “to present a proposal for decision by the end of this month on additional listings targeting separatists”. Two weeks ago, Russia-controlled rebels in east Ukraine held local elections in efforts to create a frozen conflict, and during the weekend, NATO warned that “Russia has again brought arms, equipment, artillery, tanks, and rockets over the border into Ukraine”.
In attempt to explain what may seem as EU’s changing strategy and attitude to Russia and the escalating situation in Ukraine, Federica Mogherini, EU’s foreign relations chief, stressed that the Monday’s discussion revolved about the problem of “how to re-engage in a dialogue … Russia is for sure part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution for the crisis”. Ms Mogherini also noted that “sanctions are an effective tool, [but] in a broader strategy” and an open dialogue should be part of that strategy. She also added that she was asked by many of her European colleagues-ministers to go to Moscow, which she was prepared to do but only “after checking if the conditions are there for the meeting to be fruitful”.
The EU foreign ministers meeting took place only hours after a long, behind-closed-doors meeting at a G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Following the G20 Summit, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested that one way to ease the tensions in EU-Russia relations might be to hold talks between Brussels and Moscow’s new economic club, the Eurasian Union. Mr Steinmeier then also added – clearly referring to the right of former Soviet states to sign EU free trade pacts – that “One can make such an initial attempt without putting your own position into question”. However, sources in Brussels have cautioned that some Nordic states, Poland, Romania, and the Baltic countries and the UK demaneded stronger condemnation of Russia’s actions and wanted to launch preparations for new economic sanctions in case Moscow begins a new offensive in Ukraine.