United on Ukraine, EU hits Russia with more sanctions

Paris: The European Union announced fresh sanctions against Russia and its ally Belarus on Wednesday but EU leaders are set to rebuff Kyiv’s appeal for accelerated membership of the bloc when they meet on Thursday to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The 27-nation EU blacklisted 14 more oligarchs and froze ties with Belarus’ central bank and top lenders there, the executive European Commission said on the 14th day of a war that has sent two million Ukrainians fleeing abroad.

The sanctions announced on Wednesday targeted 160 individuals, including parliamentarians and 14 more oligarchs, among them the head of Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot.

With European nations united in backing Ukraine’s resistance with unprecedented economic sanctions, three main topics now dominate the agenda of the two-day meeting starting Thursday in Versailles: Ukraine’s application for fast-track EU membership; how to wean the bloc off its Russian energy dependency; and bolstering the region’s defense capabilities.

The EU agreed to spend $500 million on buying weapons for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Germany said it would raise defense spending above 2 percent of gross domestic product — and broke with a long tradition of refusing to export weapons to conflict zones when it agreed to send anti-tank and air defense missiles to Ukraine.

“In stepping up European defense, we must find a consensus within the EU, that sometimes the best way of achieving peace is the willingness to use military strength,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.

According to a draft of the summit’s conclusions obtained by The Associated Press, leaders will agree in Versailles that they “must bolster resolutely (their) investment in defense capabilities and innovative technologies,” and to continue efforts to make the EU “a stronger and more capable security provider.”

The Ukrainian fast-track bid to join the EU has received warm support in Eastern European countries, but EU officials have stressed the process could take years, with unanimity among current members required to allow a newcomer in the club.

Image courtesy of (Image Courtesy: AP)

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