EU, US seek coordinated response to Russia over Ukraine crisis

EU, US seek coordinated response to Russia over Ukraine crisis

WASHINGTON

The United States has ordered the families of its diplomats to leave Ukraine, as rising fears of a Russian invasion pushed Western officials to meet on Jan. 24 in a bid to coordinate their response and compile a battery of sanctions against Moscow.

U.S. top diplomat Antony Blinken will join a meeting of his EU counterparts by video-link.

He will brief them on his talks on Jan. 21 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, where the two sides agreed to keep working to ease tensions but failed to secure a major breakthrough to calm the escalating crisis.

The West accuses Moscow of threatening a further incursion into its pro-Western neighbor by massing over 100,000 troops on its border. The Kremlin insists its forces are not there to invade.

As tensions ramped up Washington authorized on Jan. 23 the "voluntary" departure of non-essential embassy staff and urged its citizens in the Eastern European country to "consider departing now" ahead of any possible Russian military action.

The United States has led a diplomatic push to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from attacking Ukraine and to marshal its allies to prepare swingeing economic punishment for Moscow if he does act.

Blinken has committed to provide a written response this week to Moscow after it laid down a series of security demands that would stop Ukraine joining NATO and roll back Washington’s influence in eastern Europe.

EU foreign ministers gathering in Brussels will look to sound out the United States over its plans as Europe frets it has been left on the sidelines of discussions about its own security arrangements.

Washington and EU have threatened Moscow with "massive consequences" if it sends in its forces but getting consensus for hard-hitting measures among the bloc’s 27 nations is a complex task.

EU officials have been consulting with member states in a bid to draw up a raft of punishing sanctions in case Putin invades.

Meanwhile, Washington issued a travel advisory warning Americans to avoid all travel to Russia due to the situation "along the border with Ukraine" warning they could face "harassment."

Foreign ministers are not expected to give approval to any options for sanctions on Jan. 24, but one senior EU official insisted they could be imposed in a matter of "days" if needed.

"The reaction will be very quick, the reaction will be extremely clear," the official said.

Another EU official working on the sanctions told AFP that Europe’s huge oil and gas imports were seen as possible leverage.

On the other hand, Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Jan. 23 rejected a British claim that the Kremlin is seeking to replace Ukraine’s government with a pro-Moscow administration, and that former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev is a potential candidate.

Britain’s Foreign Office on Jan. 22 also named several other Ukrainian politicians it said had links with Russian intelligence services, along with Murayev who is the leader of a small party that has no seats in parliament.

Those politicians include Mykola Azarov, a former prime minister under Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president ousted in a 2014 uprising, and Yanukovych’s former chief of staff, Andriy Kluyev.

“Some of these have contact with Russian intelligence officers currently involved in the planning for an attack on Ukraine,” the Foreign Office said.

Murayev told The Associated Press via Skype that the British claim “looks ridiculous and funny” and that he has been denied entry to Russia since 2018 on the grounds of being a threat to Russian security. He said that sanction was imposed in the wake of a conflict with Viktor Medvedchuk, Ukraine’s most prominent pro-Russia politician and a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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