EU could impose new hard-hitting sanctions on Russia by Thursday

Nassos Stylianou
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train carrying the 280 bodies recovered from the downed Malaysian flight MH17 (Source: Getty)

European foreign ministers failed to agree on fresh hard-hitting measures aimed at the Russian economy today, however new sanctions including capital restrictions could be announced by Thursday if Moscow does not cooperate on the MH17 crash investigation.

Under growing pressure from the US, which says plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian rebel separatists in eastern Ukraine, ministers meeting in Brussels today discussed the possibility of extending the sanctions on the Russian economy to 'tier 3'. This would go beyond the existing asset freezes and visa bans to some 72 individual MPs and advisers to President Putin who supported the invasion of Crimea.

A number of countries, including the Netherlands, which suffered the biggest loss of life in the crash that killed 298 people, had called for new measures against Russia to target more individuals and consider introducing an arms embargo.

Among the wider ranging measures being considered by the EU, which will be presented on Thursday, could include cutting off Russia's access to Europe's capital markets and actions to hurt Moscow's high-tech and energy sectors.

France's decision to go ahead with the delivery of a first helicopter carrier built for Russia had cast doubt over the commitment among some of the EU's 28-member bloc to ratchet up sanctions, showing the division within the union given UK Prime Minister David Cameron's stance. Speaking at the House of Commons on Monday, Cameron had warned the City of London to prepare for the impending financial fallout from stepping up the pressure on Moscow.

A statement after the talks said that the EU would prepare "proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defence, dual-use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector", by Thursday.

Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, who said that his country’s relationship with Russia had “fundamentally” changed following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 said after the meeting that the new deal was a logical consequence "of the lack of progress that we have seen on the Russian side" since a previous ultimatum ran out at the end of June".

Earlier today, Cameron announced that air accident investigators based at Farnborough in Hampshire would be tasked with retrieving vital data from the two recorders, handed over by the separatists late last night.

International agency Interpol said that it had started the identification process for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight, whose remains had been transported from the rebel-held area on Monday evening in a refrigerated train.

"The remains of victims recovered so far were labelled and numbered before being transported in refrigerated freight wagons from Donetsk to the designated centre of operations in Kharkiv where the Interpol Incident Response Team, along with other international disaster victim identification teams in place, will carry out preliminary examinations," the France-based agency said in a statement.

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