Kevin Rawlinson — Guardian.co.uk August 30, 2014
President Putin has been warned that the crisis in Ukraine could be reaching the “point of no return” as European leaders said the EU was ready to defend its principles.
As the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, claimed there were hundreds of Russian troops and thousands of Russian tanks operating inside his country, the outgoing European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, said: “We are in a very serious, I would say, dramatic situation … where we can reach the point of no return.”
At a joint press conference with Poroshenko in Brussels on Saturday morning, Barroso said it was not too late to find a political solution to the crisis but warned: “If the escalation of the conflict continues, this point can come.
David Cameron also held talks with Poroshenko in Brussels before a summit to decide on two top EU jobs. He said: “We have to address the completely unacceptable situation of having Russian troops on Ukraine soil. Consequences must follow if that situation continues and we will be discussing that as well.”
Poroshenko’s call for tougher EU sanctions against Moscow came as the Ukrainian military said one of its fighter jets was shot down by Russian anti-aircraft fire.
In a statement, the military said: “A Russian anti-aircraft system shot down an Su-25 fighter. The pilot managed to eject.” It did not give the location of the incident but said it happened on Friday morning. It also denied rebel claims that four planes had been taken down by insurgents.
Poroshenko said his presence at the summit was an important demonstration of EU solidarity with his country.
“The most important thing now is peace,” he said. “Today we are talking about the fate of Ukraine, tomorrow it could be for all Europe.”
Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, said Russia was at war with Ukraine and so effectively at war with Europe. Calling on EU countries to supply Kiev with military equipment, she said: “It is a fact that Russia is in a war state against Ukraine. That means it is in a state of war against a country which would like to be closely integrated with the EU. Practically Russia is in a state of war against Europe.
“That means we need to help Ukraine to … defend its territory and its people and to help militarily, especially with the military materials to help Ukraine defend itself because today Ukraine is fighting a war on behalf of all Europe.”
Grybauskaitė added that an arms embargo on Russia should be tightened by including a halt on sales under existing contracts – a thinly-veiled swipe at France, which has resisted calls to cancel a deal to sell Moscow a strategic new warship.
Earlier, the German vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, told journalists: “It is clear that after this intervention by Russia in Ukraine … EU leaders will certainly task the European commission with preparing the next level of sanctions.”
“We see regular Russian army units operating offensively on the Ukrainian territory against the Ukrainian army. We must call a spade a spade,” added the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt.
All options except military action will be considered to punish Russia for pursuing “the wrong path”, said Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister.
Earlier Poroshenko tweeted: “Invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine is an act of aggression and requires an adequate reaction from the EU.”
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Putin held late-night discussions about Ukraine with the French president, François Hollande, and Barroso, who accused Moscow of “significant incursions” into Ukraine.
And Putin and Poroshenko met for talks in Minsk on Tuesday in a summit that Putin described as “very good” and “quite frank”, hailing Ukraine’s leader as “the kind of partner with whom you can hold [a] dialogue”.
Kiev and Moscow had agreed to hold high-level discussions between army leadership and border control agencies, and an official told AFP that heads of border control will meet on Saturday.
“They will discuss measures to protect Ukrainian territory from breaches by militants and equipment,” Sergiy Astakhov, an aide to the head of Kiev’s border service, said.
UN figures suggest that fighting between Ukrainian military forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has already claimed at least 2,200 lives.
Nato estimates that there are at least 1,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine, while Kiev claimed this week that Russian tanks and armoured vehicles entered the country as rebels opened a new front along the Azov Sea coast. Russia consistently denies that its forces are in Ukraine and allegations that it is supplying the rebels.
Until this week, the fighting had been concentrated inland. But rebels have taken control of the town of Novoazovsk, with the apparent aim of pushing further west along the coast connecting Russia to the Crimean peninsula.