Thursday 22 March 2018

Dutch minister expects more EU sanctions against Russia

Election workers vote on a contested ballot following eastern Ukraine's sovereignty referendum on May 11, 2014 in Slovyansk, Ukraine
Election workers vote on a contested ballot following eastern Ukraine's sovereignty referendum on May 11, 2014 in Slovyansk, Ukraine

Adrian Croft

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said he expected the European Union to agree to expand sanctions against Russia over Ukraine on Monday.

"I believe so," he told reporters when asked whether EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on Monday, would agree to expand the sanctions list.

Diplomats have told Reuters some 14 people and two Crimea-based companies could be targeted with sanctions at the meeting.

Meanwhile, about 90% of voters in Ukraine's sprawling industrial heartland have backed their regions' sovereignty in controversial referendums, organisers said.

According to early returns, 89% of those who cast ballots yesterday in the Donetsk region and about 96% of those who turned out in the neighbouring Luhansk region voted for sovereignty.

The pro-Russian insurgents who organised the vote said the ultimate status of the regions would be discussed later and could include the possibility of secession or annexation by Russia.

Ukraine's central government and the West have condemned the balloting as a sham and a violation of international law, and accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in a possible attempt to grab more land weeks after the annexation of Crimea.

Russian president Vladimir Putin had urged the organisers to postpone the vote in an apparent attempt to distance himself from the insurgents and keep his hands free for bargaining with the West on defusing the crisis.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by the Kommersant daily as saying that it was difficult for people in the east to heed Mr Putin's call because of fighting in the region.

The insurgents in the east have seized government buildings and clashed with government troops and police over the past month. More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents.

Yesterday's voting in the two regions with a combined population of 6.5 million appeared mostly peaceful, but armed men identified as members of the Ukrainian national guard opened fire on a crowd outside the town hall in Krasnoarmeisk, and an official with the region's insurgents said people were killed. It was not clear how many.

The bloodshed took place hours after dozens of armed men shut down the voting in the town.

Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov issued a statement saying: "The farce, which terrorists call the referendum, will have no legal consequences except the criminal responsibility for its organisers."

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