Merkel raises prospect of sanctions as Russia tensions build
Germany’s departing leader, Angela Merkel, raised the prospect of the European Union imposing new sanctions if tensions with Russia and Belarus don’t subside.
The chancellor, who will likely turn her office over to Social Democrat Olaf Scholz in the next two weeks, cited the Russian military build-up near the Ukrainian border, the Kremlin’s refusal to hold talks on peace in eastern Ukraine and Belarus’s role in a migration crisis on the border with Poland.
“We have to make clear that if the situation escalates we can introduce further sanctions,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, speaking alongside Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Still, “the door to dialog should always remain open,” she said.
Tension has been rising on the EU’s eastern frontier since Russia began amassing as many as 100,000 troops on the borders around its former Soviet partner Ukraine in what the US has told its allies may be preparations for an invasion.
Just after Merkel and Morawiecki spoke, Polish President Andrzej Duda called for NATO to boost its defense readiness after a meeting in Warsaw with the military alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.
In Berlin, Merkel bemoaned Moscow’s refusal to hold a meeting with Ukraine, Germany and France as part of ongoing talks to reduce tensions in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where Russia is backing separatists fighting against the Ukrainian government.
“It would have been a good sign that all sides are interested in a solution to the Ukrainian issue,” Merkel said. “But it didn’t come to that.”
In a phone conversation later with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Merkel reiterated her support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity, adding that “its erosion won’t remain without consequences,” her chief spokesman said in a statement.
Poland is also struggling with a migrant crisis on its border with Belarus as that country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has ushered migrants mostly from the Middle East to the EU’s eastern frontier.
EU officials have condemned Lukashenko’s actions as part of a “hybrid attack” against the bloc, which imposed sanctions over his government’s crackdown on opposition forces following disputed elections there last year.
Morawiecki, who is on a tour of European capitals to coordinate a response to Russian-linked tensions, said the EU may scale back trade with Belarus and impose new penalties.
The sanctions would amount to a “significant hit against Lukashenko’s regime,” Morawiecki said.
While big EU members, including Germany and France, have professed solidarity with Poland, tensions remain. During Morawiecki’s stopover in Paris on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron pressed the Polish premier on his country’s adherence to the bloc’s rule-of-law standards.
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