EU blacklists nine people over rebel vote in east Ukraine
The European Union (EU) yesterday blacklisted nine people involved in rebel elections in eastern Ukraine last month, but signalled no further measures against Moscow over the latest flare-up of tensions with Kiev in the Azov Sea.
Instead, the EU's foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, said they would look at offering more help to Ukraine, whose Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014 and which then saw Moscow back separatists in the east.
The EU added nine locals in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine to its blacklist as a follow-up to the separatist vote there, bringing the total number of people barred from the EU over turmoil in Ukraine to 164.
Ukrainian officials last week appealed to the West to take firm action, saying that failure to do so would give Russia a "green light" to tighten its military and economic stranglehold over the Sea of Azov.
Russian coastguards had fired on and seized two Ukrainian navy gunboats and a tug after they attempted to sail through the strait of Kerch on November 25. The Russian government, which claims the vessels entered its waters illegally, has impounded them and refused to release the 24 crew members.
Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine's foreign minister, said last week: "There must be action. We must raise the cost for Russia with comprehensive and tailored sanctions." But Russia's seizure of the naval vessels has instead exposed deepening rifts within the EU.
Diplomats have described scenes of "tension" in Brussels as member states faced off over how to respond in the week after the sea clash. Britain, Poland and the Baltic states had pushed for reference to new punitive measures in the collective EU statement on the incident, but the proposal was blocked by Germany and France, who argued that the priority should be on "de-escalation".
The EU has since released €500m in financial help to Kiev but is split on whether to go ahead with any new economic sanctions, a move that would require unanimity of all the member states.