EU mulls arms embargo over Russia's Ukraine policy: Draft

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Russia must change course on Ukraine and return its troops to their bases in Crimea or it risks a series of EU punitive measures, including an arms embargo, a draft document showed on Monday.

EU foreign ministers meeting to find a common response to the mounting crisis in Ukraine were to consider what measures to take in the event of "further possible negative actions by Russia," according to a draft of the final statement seen by AFP.

"In the absence of an agreed solution, the EU will consider/begin preparations for future targeted measures, including an arms embargo," it said.

This section of the draft was in brackets, meaning it is open to change or even removal at the meeting.

Russia and France in 2011 signed a contract worth over a billion euros for Moscow to buy two Mistral warships, its first ever purchase of military hardware from a NATO member.

The first warship was floated out late last year and is set to be delivered to the Russian navy in October, with the second still under construction.

Of the 28 EU member states, France and Germany have both pressed the case for dialogue and mediation with Moscow first, downplaying any possibility of sanctions at this stage.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told reporters on arriving for the meeting that "sanctions are not in order today but sanctions will become inevitable" if there is no change in Russia's position.

Among other steps ministers are considering, the draft refers to suspending talks with Russia on visa liberalisation, a long-standing grievance in Moscow, and on negotiations to upgrade EU-Russian relations.

"The European Union strongly condemns" Russian actions in Ukraine, especially its de facto occupation of Crimea, largely pro-Russian and home to its key Black Sea fleet.

Such action breaches international law and commitments Russia itself made under a 1994 international accord on Ukraine also signed by the US and Britain, and a 1997 bilateral treaty, the draft said.

Accordingly, the EU "calls on Russia to immediately withdraw its armed forces to the areas of their permanent stationing," in line with its commitments, and should also "without delay" agree to direct talks with Kiev, it said.

In addition, the EU commended "the measured response demonstrated so far by Ukraine" and said it was ready to support international efforts to help the country, plunged into chaos three months ago when pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych ditched an EU association accord.

A draft statement at this stage can be expected to undergo significant change before final agreement.

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