By Ingrid Melander and Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to impose new economic sanctions on Russia, joining the United States and Britain in a bid to punish President Vladimir Putin and his allies for unleashing a full-scale attack on Ukraine.
However, the bloc refrained from taking the harshest measures sought by Ukraine and split on the scope of the sanctions, leaving the details to be ironed out in the coming days.
Russian forces rained missiles down on its southern neighbor throughout the day in the biggest state-on-state attack in Europe since World War II.
Leaders of the 27-nation bloc slammed Putin at an emergency summit in Brussels, with Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins describing him as “a deceived autocrat creating misery for millions of people”.
The EU will freeze Russian assets in the bloc and block its banks’ access to European financial markets as part of what EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described as “the whole toughest sanctions we have ever implemented”.
The sanctions will also target Russia’s energy and transportation sectors, among others, and seek to stifle its trade and manufacturing with export controls.
“Our sanctions will harm the Russian economy at its core,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
But a sense of helplessness was tangible after the West failed to stop a war their leaders saw coming.
“We have not succeeded enough, not decisively enough, to prevent Russia from taking this step, which is a tragedy for Ukraine, a tragedy for Europe and a tragedy for Russia itself,” he said. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.
There are differences within the EU over the scope of the sanctions, with countries that would face the greatest economic backlash keen to keep the harshest measures in reserve.
“Hopefully we will make great progress tomorrow on how these sanctions look specifically,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said. “For the Netherlands, SWIFT is part of the discussion.”
“MASSIVE AND SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES”
An EU diplomat said the bloc, like the United States, would refrain from taking steps to cut Russia off from the SWIFT global interbank payments system.
Ukraine and the EU’s former Soviet Baltic states had been pushing to remove Russia from the system. But when asked about SWIFT, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “We have to keep the sanctions ready for later times.”
Germany has already frozen the approval of the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 Baltic.
In a statement agreed at the summit, EU leaders said the new round of sanctions “will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action, in close coordination with our partners and allies.”
Russian assets in the EU would be frozen and Russian banks’ access to European financial markets would be blocked.
An EU diplomat said Italy, Germany and Cyprus were among those who preferred a gradual approach, while Central European and Baltic states – closest to Russia – wanted a more hard.
“Russia must feel that the price of aggression is high,” said Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, wearing a tie in the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag.
The EU had already approved a first round of sanctions on Wednesday, including the blacklisting of Russian politicians and the restriction of trade between the EU and two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine which Moscow has acknowledged as being responsible. ‘independence.
The EU will also prepare a new aid program for Ukraine and new sanctions against Belarus, used by some of the Russian invaders to enter Ukraine.
Separately, the bloc has also pledged support for Moldova, another former Soviet republic where a pro-Western government is at odds with its former overlord Moscow.
“If he (Putin) can attack Ukraine, it could be any other European country. Democratic ideas, if they were to come to Russia, would overthrow his government. He is fighting for power,” said the Latvian Karins.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Bart Meijer, Marine Strauss, John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska, Kate Abnett and Foo Yun Chee; Writing by Ingrid Melander and John Chalmers; Editing by Kevin Liffey)