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EU leaders pile more pressure on Russia

As Russian FM pokes fun at EU's role in Ukraine, the bloc's top diplomat urges Moscow to pull troops from border.

Last updated: 04 Apr 2014 19:25
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Russia's annexation of Crimea has brought Europe and Moscow into their biggest conflict since the Cold War [AFP]

The top diplomat of the European Union has said Russia needs to show it is serious about defusing the Ukraine crisis by moving its troops back from the border as Russia's foreign minister ridiculed EU-Ukraine relationship.

Catherine Ashton, foreign policy chief, made the comments on Friday at the start of a two-day meeting in Athens where EU foreign ministers gathered to discuss possible actions against Russia's annexation of Crimea.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said EU member states had to remain unted about punitive measures taken against officials in Moscow and in the annexed peninsula.

"It's very important for us to remain strong and united about the sanctions that we have implemented against individuals in Russia and Crimea, and to prepare more far-reaching measures if they become necessary," Hague said ahead of the meeting.

No decision would be made in Athens, he added.

"This moment isn't the moment for phase three of sanctions, but they have to be ready because the situation remains very dangerous, it remains very tense."

Linas Linkevicius, the foreign minister of Lithuania - the country that fears it could be one of the next victims of Russian aggression - said "Europe must stand united" against Moscow as concessions would be perceived as a "weakness" by the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, poked fun at the Western leaders and Ukraine, saying "the West has taken on a role of the master of Ukraine's fate while the country's fledging government has not shown much independence so far".

Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea has brought Europe and Russia into their biggest conflict since the Cold War, and is raising questions about the bloc's long-term policy towards Moscow and about the EU's ability to support stability in the region.

Hiking gas price

Ukraine's Western backed leaders scrambled on Friday to find new sources of energy after Russia hiked its gas price by 80 percent in response to the overthrow of Kiev's pro-Kremlin regime.

Yuriy Prodan, the energy minister, called the new rate "political" and vowed to explore solutions that included a heavier reliance on coal.

The country's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said on Friday another option the government was trying to chase up was reversing gas from European neighbours like Slovenia, Hungary and Poland.

Reverse flows would involve sending gas back down the pipelines used in the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine to Europe.

"On a technical level, the idea of reverse gas raises no problems, and we hope our European partners make the right decision. If it will be to reverse, then it means the prise for gas will be $150 lower than Russian gas," said Yatseniuk.

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