Brussels (Brussels Morning) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday that the body is prepared to exert “unprecedented” pressure on Russia. She insisted that the bloc would introduce more sanctions against Russia if it showed additional aggression towards Ukraine, Reuters reports.
Von der Leyen indicated that the bloc had been discussing options with the US that went beyond sanctions against Russian defence, energy and financial sectors. “Our response to any further aggression may take the form of a robust scaling-up and expansion of these existing sanctions regimes”, she stated to the European Parliament. “Of course we are ready to take additional, unprecedented measures with serious consequences for Russia”, she observed.
Also on Wednesday, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged the EU to ask Russia to defuse tensions with Ukraine. Speaking to Italian MPs before this week’s EU summit, he said the bloc “must unanimously renew its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The former Soviet Republic warned that Moscow has deployed roughly 100,000 troops near its border, possibly in preparation for a military offensive. This sparked fears that the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region could escalate into war.
According to Draghi, the bloc has to “unequivocally express itself against the use of migrants by the Belarusian regime”, since thousands of people, largely from the Middle East, are stuck between Belarus and the EU. The bloc accuses Belarus of providing visas to Middle Easterners, flying them into the country and then pushing them across the EU’s eastern border. Draghi stressed that “intentional use of migrants for political aims is unacceptable.”
Commenting on the coronavirus crisis, Draghi stressed the importance of the EU stepping up its efforts to supply COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries. Italy, he added, is working towards meeting all policy objectives that Rome agreed with Brussels to gain access to EU funds and steer the economy out of the crisis. Draghi announced that the government is prepared to provide more money if needed to cushion the blow of inflation and limit the rise of household energy bills. Italy has spent roughly 4 billion euro this year to limit increases in the prices of natural gas and electricity, and plans a similar move in 2022.