EU Threatens Russia With New Sanctions, Aims to Bolster Energy, Defense Independence

PARIS — The European Union has warned it could slap massive new sanctions against Russia, but it also rejected fast-tracking Ukraine’s EU membership. At a summit outside Paris, the group also focused on beefing up the EU’s military, energy and food security in response to the Ukraine conflict.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the two-day meeting at Versailles Palace, said nothing was off the table when it came to further sanctions against Moscow. Ahead of a scheduled phone call with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, he said if Russia intensified its bombing of Ukraine or laid siege to Kyiv, nothing was taboo.

Leaders also expressed outrage against the bombing of a children’s hospital in the Ukrainian town of Mariupol, which the U.N. says is one of numerous strikes against the country’s health facilities.

“Indeed, it is atrocious, it is atrocious,” said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. “This bombardment of the maternity hospital, for example. And I think there needs to be investigations about the question of war crimes.”

EU leaders announced measures to support the more than 2 million Ukrainians who have fled their country since the conflict — mostly to surrounding European countries. And, they said, EU and U.S. sanctions against Russia were working.

“You see that the ruble is in free fall,” von der Leyen said. “It has lost more than 50 percent compared to the euro. You see there are skyrocketing interest rates in Russia. You see a soaring inflation … the rating agencies do rate Russian bonds as junk by now. And recession is hitting the county.”

But while backing Ukraine’s bid to join the EU, the 27-member bloc says it won’t fast-track it. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has responded by saying the EU should “do more” for his country.

But France’s Macron said the EU couldn’t throw away its membership criteria — or forget about other EU hopefuls waiting in line, including Moldova and Georgia.

A key summit focus was on making Europe strong and independent in terms of defense, food security and energy. Besides creating Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised fears the conflict could spread elsewhere on the continent. The bloc also heavily depends on Russia for its energy, and on both Ukraine and Russia for grain imports.

Macron warned the conflict will deeply destabilize food supplies for both Europe and Africa. European leaders discussed ways to cushion the shock and strengthen the bloc’s food security — which Macron said could also help African countries at risk.

Additionally, the EU is planning how it will phase out its energy dependency on Russia by 2027. And it’s drafting a plan to boost its defense capabilities and industry, including in areas like cyberwarfare.

The Ukraine conflict already has seen member states like Germany, Denmark and Sweden take unprecedented steps to boost their defense spending and engagement.

Source: Voice of America

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