BRUSSELS — Brushing aside Russian criticism, the European Union agreed Thursday to go ahead with sanctions that include travel bans and asset freezes imposed on those deemed responsible for the fatal escalation of violence in Ukraine.
A day after the United States announced some similar moves, foreign ministers of the 28-nation European Union said they would devise a list of those who would be subject to the European sanctions, and that the sanctions would also ban the export of equipment likely to be used for repression in Ukraine.
But the European foreign ministers also left themselves room to continue with dialogue with the government of President Viktor Yanukovych, stressing the importance of political progress in Kiev where the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland have been trying to mediate.
Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said the foreign ministers had acted because of the “widespread horror” at what had happened in Ukraine but that the number of those affected by the sanctions would depend on the behavior of the Ukrainian government.
“The scale of the implementation of that will depend on developments to come and of course we want to see success in government and opposition working together in order to bring about a peaceful situation and a peaceful and democratic settlement,” Hague told reporters as he left the meeting in Brussels.
The European foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said that ministers had been “truly alarmed and shocked by the scale of violence that has taken place,” and praised the work of the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland who briefed Ashton by telephone after their talks with Yanukovych.
Before Thursday’s meeting several ministers stressed the importance of sending a tough message to the government in Kiev and said that the Ukrainian authorities bore the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of their citizens.
But Europeans are also keen to avoid worsening the situation by isolating the Ukrainian president, reducing the prospects of reaching a negotiated settlement.
During telephone talks Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron “agreed to do all they can to secure support from all sides in Ukraine for a possible road map, proposed by European foreign ministers in Kiev earlier today, which could lead to a peaceful solution to the crisis,” Cameron’s office said.
The European decision came as Russia stridently denounced the imposition of sanctions, both by Europe and the United States, saying such steps amounted to blackmail against the government of Yanukovych.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, also criticized the visit by the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland, saying the European Union had dispatched its “latest uninvited mission” to Kiev to impose a solution by forcing Yanukovych to compromise.