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December 8, 2018

EU sanctions nine people over ‘illegal’ Ukraine polls


December 8, 2018

BRUSSELS: EU states have agreed to sanction nine people over recent "illegal" elections in Russian-backed breakaway eastern Ukraine, officials told AFP Friday, as tensions between Moscow and Kiev run high over their recent sea clash.

Foreign ministers will use a meeting in Brussels on Monday to formally approve travel bans and asset freezes on nine Ukrainians involved in the polls in the Donetsk and Lugansk "People's Republics" last month, which the US blasted as a "sham" and the EU has called "illegal and illegitimate".

The move comes as Kiev steps up calls for international action against Russia after it seized three Ukrainian navy ships and 24 sailors in the Sea of Azov, but Monday's gathering of EU foreign ministers will not adopt sanctions over the incident, as countries are wary of escalating a complicated situation further.

An EU official said a meeting on Wednesday had agreed "the legal acts for new listings under the restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine".

Diplomats confirmed nine people, all Ukrainian, would be sanctioned, meaning they will be banned from travelling to or through EU countries and any assets they hold in the bloc will be frozen.

The November polls returned pro-Moscow separatist leaders to power in the two breakaway Ukrainian regions, ballots that Kiev said were simply a way for the Kremlin to cement its grip on the disputed region.

The so-called republics were declared in 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and supported the outbreak of an anti-Kiev insurgency in other parts of eastern Ukraine.

The EU has a range of sanctions in place related to the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives, but they are treading carefully over the Azov Sea clash.

The confrontation on November 25 was the first open military incident between Kiev and Moscow since 2014 and on Thursday Ukraine´s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin warned that Russia´s belligerence was a "major threat to European security". But the bloc´s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini struck a cautionary note, urging the "greatest moderation to proceed toward a de-escalation".

Klimkin will meet EU foreign ministers on Monday to press his call for more action against Russia, but diplomats say he is unlikely to receive anything more concrete than statements of support.

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