The European Union on Saturday warned that the apparent incursion of
Russian troops on Ukrainian soil pushes the conflict closer to a point
of no return, with new economic sanctions being drawn up to make Moscow
reconsider its position.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who briefed a summit of the
28-nation EU's leaders in Brussels, said a strong response was needed to
the "military aggression and terror" facing his country.
"Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are
now on the territory of Ukraine," Poroshenko told reporters in English.
"There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine,
but for the whole peace and stability of Europe."
French President Francois Hollande and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik
Reinfeldt said upon their arrival for the summit in Brussels the leaders
will make a political decision and then ask the EU's executive arm to
finalize the fine print of new sanctions.
However, because several EU nations fear the fallout of sanctions on
their own economies, it wasn't immediately clear whether the required
unanimity would be reached for immediate punitive measures, or whether
the leaders would set Russia another ultimatum.
But Lithuanian leader Dalia Grybauskaite insisted Russia's meddling in
Ukraine, which seeks closer ties with the EU, amounts to a direct
confrontation that requires stronger sanctions.
"Russia is practically in the war against Europe," she said in English.
NATO estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine even
though Russia denies any military involvement in the fighting that has
so far claimed 2,600 lives, according to U.N. figures.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also warned that Europe can't be complacent about Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.
"Countries in Europe shouldn't have to think long before realizing just
how unacceptable that is," he said. "We know that from our history. So
consequences must follow."
Conceding ground in the face of a reinvigorated rebel offensive, Ukraine
said Saturday that it was abandoning a city where its forces have been
surrounded by rebels for days. Government forces were also pulling back
from another it had claimed to have taken control of two weeks earlier.
The statements by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national
security council, indicate that Ukrainian forces face increasingly
strong resistance from Russian-backed separatist rebels just weeks after
racking up significant gains and forcing rebels out of much of the
territory they had held.
Poroshenko, meanwhile, said Ukraine would welcome an EU decision to help
with military equipment and further intelligence-sharing.
The office of the Donetsk mayor reported in a statement that at least
two people died in an artillery attack on one of Donetsk's
neighborhoods. Shelling was reported elsewhere in the city, but there
was no immediate word on casualties.
In Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said
"sanctions are not an end in themselves," but a means to dissuade Russia
from further destabilizing Ukraine.
"We may see a situation where we reach the point of no return," Barroso
warned. "If the escalation of the conflict continues, this point of no
return can come."
He provided no specifics about which sanctions the heads of state and
government might adopt to inflict more economic pain to nudge Russia
toward a political solution.
The U.S. and the EU have so far imposed sanctions against dozens of
Russian officials, several companies and the country's financial
industry. Moscow has retaliated by banning food imports.
Grybauskaite said the EU should impose a full arms embargo, including
the canceling of already agreed contracts. France has so far staunchly
opposed that proposal because it has a $1.6 billion contract to build
Mistral helicopter carriers for Russia.
The EU's requirement for a unanimous agreement among the 28 nation has
in the past blocked or softened decisions since some nations fear the
Russia is the EU's No. 3 trading partner and one of its biggest oil and
gas suppliers. The EU, in turn, is Russia's biggest commercial partner,
making any sanctions more biting than similar measures adopted by the
Barroso said that the EU — a bloc encompassing 500 million people and
stretching from Lisbon to the border with Ukraine — stands ready to
grant Kiev further financial assistance if needed. The bloc will also
organize a donors' conference to help rebuild the country's east at the
end of the year, he added.
Ukrainian forces had been surrounded by rebels in the town of Ilovaysk,
about 20 kilometers (15 miles) east of the largest rebel-held city of
Donetsk for days.
"We are surrendering this city," Ukraine's Lysenko told reporters. "Our
task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in
order to regroup."
Lysenko said that regular units of the military had been ordered to
retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main
road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest
rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in
Separately, Ukrainian forces said one of their Su-25 fighter jets was
shot down Friday over eastern Ukraine by a missile from a Russian
missile launcher. The pilot ejected and was uninjured, the military said
in a brief statement.
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