Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

The EU has promised to extend existing sanctions against Russia in the event of “further aggression” against Ukraine, as Joe Biden tried to deter Vladimir Putin from undertaking a military attack on the country.

EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen told EU ambassadors on Tuesday that the bloc would “respond appropriately to any further aggression. . . taken against us or our neighbors, including Ukraine, and will take “additional restrictive measures” as economic sanctions in the event of an invasion.

“We would rather engage constructively with Moscow,” she said. “But it depends on them. “At present, it is Russia’s deliberate choices and aggressive actions that continue to destabilize security in Europe.”

The remarks came shortly before a video call between Biden and Putin, which lasted a little over two hours. The US president will now brief the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK, the White House said.

Biden held consultations with them on Monday to put forward a united front on sanctions. In the call with Putin, he was expected to set out measures that would inflict “serious” damage to Russia’s economy if the country invaded Ukraine, a US official said at the time. The US President will also speak to Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine.

EU sanctions being discussed will focus on ways to target Russia’s economy and financial system, Western diplomats told the Financial Times. European officials say the US is pushing for measures designed to diminish Russia’s ability to convert rubles into dollars and hinder the economic interests of Russian oligarchs.

Western officials informed about the thinking in Washington said the restrictions on ruble conversion in Western currencies would make Russian oil sales “much more difficult”. They say sanctions “will clearly go much further” than Western retaliation after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The US believes Putin will assemble the troops, equipment and disinformation campaign needed for military escalation early next year, but it is unclear whether the Russian leader has yet made the decision to do so.

A renewed invasion will reactivate a slow-burning conflict in Donbas, an eastern Ukrainian region on the Russian border that has claimed more than 14,000 lives since it began in 2014.

Biden will also address strategic stability, cyberattacks and Iran’s nuclear program during the call with Putin, who the Kremlin said it expected would be “fairly long”.

A senior Biden administration official said Monday that Washington believes “we have a way forward that will involve significant economic countermeasures by both Europeans and the US that would cause significant and severe economic damage to the Russian economy, should they would decide to continue “.

US intelligence on Russia’s military preparations, which has been shared with European states in recent weeks, has “created a sense of urgency” around new sanctions, the senior EU official added.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 following a pro-Western uprising in Kiev. Since then, the Kremlin has supported separatist forces in the Donbas region, although it denies any direct involvement in the conflict.

The Minsk Accords, a 2015 Franco-German peace agreement that froze the most important phase of hostilities, came to a halt over Russia and Ukraine’s refusal to enforce various parts of the treaty. Moscow has said it sees no point in negotiating with Ukraine, which describes it as a US-run Western puppet state.

Kremlin officials have denied any intention of invading Ukraine, saying Moscow is merely trying to discourage supporters in Ukraine’s government and armed forces from a military operation to reclaim territory now controlled by separatists in the Donbas.

Meanwhile, Putin has demanded legally binding security guarantees from the west over Russia’s “red lines”, which he described as commitments that NATO would not allow Ukraine to the bloc or deploy troops and weapons into the country.

Following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the US and EU slapped travel bans and asset freezes on Russian government and security officials, and others close to Putin, who may have influenced the decision.

The US soon added a ban on transactions with some Russian companies and their executives. Western countries have also banned energy and infrastructure-related loans and investments for projects in the Crimea or to entities linked to the annexed peninsula.

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