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EU ministers seek joint response on Ukraine at crisis talks

AFP , Monday 3 Mar 2014
Gathering together for Informal meetings of EU Ministers of Defence during their meeting at the National Art Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, July 5, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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European Union foreign ministers met Monday for crisis talks on Ukraine seeking to gather hawkish nations and those favouring dialogue behind a common stand on Russia's threat of military incursion.

"It is vital that Europeans speak with a single voice," said France's Laurent Fabius on arriving for the talks that formally begin at 1200 GMT.

Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt, who along with colleagues from ex Soviet satellites is a proponent of tough action against Russia, said he was "not very optimistic" of a quick fix to the escalating crisis in Europe's backyard.

"Some in Russia are still impressed by their military might," he said. "That is not the way to make friends in Europe, in the world."

The talks, the second such emergency EU get-together on Ukraine in less than two weeks, is expected to see the 28-nation bloc firmly condemn Russia's action while taking a conciliatory tack, seeking a peaceful solution possibly with the help of outside mediation.

That is the line proposed by powerhouse Germany, whose Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived saying it was time for diplomacy.

"Europe is without doubt in the worst crisis since the fall of the (Berlin) wall" 25 years ago, he said.

"The threat of a division of Europe is real again," he added. "Now is the time for diplomacy."

"Diplomacy does not mean weakness but is more needed than ever to prevent us from being drawn into the abyss of military escalation."

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and said he was violating a 1994 accord in which Moscow committed to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine.

But she also suggested, and Putin agreed, to set up a contact group on Ukraine, reflecting Berlin's desire to keep contacts open with Moscow rather than risk an open breach.

"We need to talk to Putin, who has his own good reasons for doing bad things," a senior diplomat told AFP. "The situation is extremely dangerous. We need a way out of this 'us' and 'them' Cold War syndrome."

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders too warned against hawkish talk, siding with Merkel in calling for the door to be left open to dialogue.

Since Putin won the Russian parliament's blessing for a military incursion Saturday, outraged Western powers have threatened to kick Russia out of the G8 club it joined with great fanfare in 1997 as it returned to global respectability after years lost in post-Soviet chaos.

On Sunday the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the presidents of the European Council and European Commission condemned Russia's "clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

They said that as a result they could not take part in preparatory talks for June's G8 summit in Sochi, site of the just completed Winter Olympic Games.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Kiev, where he is meeting the interim Ukrainian government, that Russia faced "significant costs" if it did not change course.

"I don't want to anticipate at the moment what those will be, those will be discussed among my fellow EU foreign ministers today," he said

"But be in no doubt that there would be such costs. The world cannot just allow this to happen. The world cannot say it's okay in effect to violate the sovereignty of another nation in this way."

Hague said Russia was entitled to have forces in Crimea under treaties it had signed.

"But when they are outside their bases they are meant to operate with the agreement of the Ukrainian authorities. Russia needs to return to that situation," he said.

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