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


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European Union countries on Monday accused Russian armed forces of committing war crimes in Ukraine, but seemed unlikely to impose new sanctions on Moscow despite a clamor across Europe that those responsible for the attacks on civilians are held accountable.

As civilian deaths rise in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pointed to increased Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and theaters.

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

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said before chairing a meeting of foreign ministers from the 27-nation bloc in Brussels that “what is happening in Mariupol is a massive war crime. To destroy everything , bombing and killing everyone indiscriminately. It’s something horrible.”

The southern city surrounded on the Sea of ​​Azov has seen some of the worst horrors of war. Multiple attempts to evacuate residents of Mariupol failed or were only partially successful. City officials said at least 2,300 people died in the siege, some buried in mass graves.

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Borrell emphasized that “war also has a law”. The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands is collecting evidence on possible war crimes in Ukraine, but Russia, like the United States, does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, left, talks to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels on Monday 21 March 2022. EU foreign ministers debate how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
(AP)

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said his country was “certainly open to other accountability mechanisms in relation to the atrocities taking place in Ukraine at the moment”.

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

“There is a fury across the European Union in the public as to why can’t we stop this,” he told reporters. “They want people to be held accountable for the decisions made and the brutality we have seen.”

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The imposition of a new round of sanctions – asset freezes and travel bans – seems unlikely at this time.

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 impose sanctions on 877 people. Among them are Russian President Vladimir Putin, senior ministers and pro-Kremlin oligarchs.

62 other “entities” – companies, banks, airlines and shipbuilders – were also affected in near record time. But the issue of imposing restrictive energy measures remains extremely sensitive, given the dependence of many EU countries on Russian natural gas supplies.

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra, left, talks to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Monday, March 21, 2022.

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra, left, talks to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Monday, March 21, 2022.
(AP)

A group of countries led by Germany wants a pause on the new measures for now, amid concerns over high energy prices and fears that Russia could halt gas exports to Europe. Some also want to save sanction ammo for any new major wartime atrocity, like the use of chemical weapons.

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

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

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“We can’t get tired of imposing sanctions. We can’t get tired of offering assistance and help to Ukraine,” he said.

He said the EU needed to start thinking about what kind of attack from Russia would be a “red line” for tougher action. The bombing of cities and civilians, he said, did not seem enough to convince some member countries “but somewhere out there there must be one”.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, left, talks to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Monday, March 21, 2022.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, left, talks to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Monday, March 21, 2022.
(AP)

Landsbergis also said Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia needed their defenses strengthened by partner nations.

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


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