Angela Merkel says EU must look at tougher sanctions against Russia as tensions rise

The European Union must be prepared to enact more sanctions against Russia if the situation around eastern Ukraine or on the Belarus-Poland border escalates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

peaking at a joint news conference in Berlin yesterday with her Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, the outgoing Chancellor said the EU had to be united on the issues of Belarus’s “weaponisation” of migrants against Poland and Russia’s deployment of troops to near its border with Ukraine.

“Any further aggression against the sovereignty of Ukraine would carry a high price,” Ms Merkel said, adding that defusing the situation should be the preferred option.

Russia and Ukraine staged military drills this week following weeks of rising tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.

Thousands of migrants from the Middle East and other hotspots are stranded on the EU’s eastern border, in what the bloc says is a crisis engineered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Poland has deployed military and police to the border to prevent groups of migrants from crossing over from Belarus.

Mr Morawiecki said by doing so, Poland was protecting the EU and Germany from a “big wave” of migrants and said the bloc should consider further sanctions against Minsk.

The EU accuses Minsk of flying migrants into the country and pushing them across EU borders, a charge Mr Lukashenko denies, in a bid to destabilise its western neighbours and the whole bloc.

While Ms Merkel said she thought Poland was doing everything possible to avoid any further escalation on the border, she raised concerns about the challenging conditions faced by the migrants on both sides.

“We have an interest that people in Belarus are looked after in a humane way,” Ms Merkel said. “We have also discussed the humanitarian situation on the Polish side of the border.”

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.

Ukraine, which wants to join the NATO military alliance, received a large consignment of US ammunition and missiles earlier this year, prompting criticism from Moscow.

Russia has not turned its back on talks with France, Germany and Ukraine about how to implement a peace deal over eastern Ukraine, Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said yesterday.  

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