EU slams ‘war crimes’ in Ukraine but new sanctions unlikely

05:26 PM Mar 21, 2022 | PTI |

Brussels: European Union countries on Monday accused the Russian armed forces of committing war crimes in Ukraine, but appeared unlikely to impose new sanctions on Moscow despite a clamour across Europe for those responsible for attacks on civilians to be held to account.


With civilian deaths mounting in the besieged port city of Mariupol, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock highlighted the increase in Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and theatres.

The “courts will have to decide, but for me these are clearly war crimes”, Baerbock said.

Before chairing a meeting of the 27-nation bloc’s foreign ministers here, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said “what’s happening in Mariupol is a massive war crime. Destroying everything, bombarding and killing everybody in an indiscriminate manner. This is something awful.” The encircled southern city on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the worst horrors of the war.

Multiple attempts to evacuate residents from Mariupol have failed or only partly succeeded. City officials said at least 2,300 people had died in the siege, with some buried in mass graves.


Underlining that “war also has law”, Borrell said the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands was gathering evidence about any possible war crimes in Ukraine, but Russia, like the US, did not recognise the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said his country was “certainly open to other mechanisms for accountability in terms of the atrocities that are taking place in Ukraine right now”.

Coveney said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was probably the first “war being played out on social media, where people see images happening live, and they’re outraged by it”.

“This is driving a fury across the EU within the public as to why can’t we stop this,” he told reporters.

“They want people held to account for the decisions taken and the brutality that we have seen.” The imposition of a new round of sanctions — asset freezes and travel bans — appears unlikely for now.

Notorious for their often slow handling of fast moving international events, EU nations have rallied in just over three weeks since the invasion began on February 24 to slap sanctions on 877 people, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, senior ministers and pro-Kremlin oligarchs.

A further 62 “entities” — companies, banks, airlines and ship builders — have also been hit in near record time. But the issue of imposing restrictive measures on energy remains extremely sensitive, given the dependence of many EU countries on supplies of Russia natural gas.

A group of countries led by Germany wants a pause on new measures for now, amid concern about high energy prices and fears that Russia might halt gas exports to Europe.

Some also want to save sanction ammunition for any new and major war atrocity, like the use of chemical weapons.

“We are doing everything to close loopholes in the sanctions” that have already been agreed, Baerbock said.

But Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, whose country borders Russia and Belarus, warned against “sanctions fatigue”.

“We cannot get tired, imposing sanctions. We cannot get tired, offering assistance and help to Ukraine,” he said.

He said the EU must start thinking about what kind of attack by Russia would constitute a “red line” for tougher measures.

He said the shelling of cities and civilians did not appear to be enough to persuade some member countries “but somewhere there, there has to be one”.

Landsbergis also said that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia needed their defences bolstered by partner countries.

“I think we need to see more equipment, and first of all the actual defence plans (for) the Baltic countries that would reflect the changed strategic reality of the region,” he told the media.


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