A number of EU foreign ministers are pushing for stronger sanctions against Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine. It follows NATO allegations that Moscow sent "well over 1,000 troops" across the border.
EU foreign ministers gathered in Milan, Italy on Friday for an informal meeting to mull a tougher stance towards Moscow, amid calls to step up economic sanctions.
Their meeting came a day after NATO said Russia had sent well over 1,000 troops and heavy weaponry into Ukraine. Russia has rejected accusations that it invaded Ukraine, but the German government has described Russian actions as "military intervention."
"We expect explanations from Russia on the reports of the repeated violations of the Ukrainian borders that add up to a military intervention," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Friday.
In Milan, several EU foreign ministers voiced their support for fresh sanctions. These would be in addition to measures already imposed against dozens of Russian officials, several companies and the country's financial industry, leveled by the US and the EU earlier this summer.
"It is really unacceptable to continue to stir up trouble in a neighboring country. If Russia does not change its stance, then we can't do anything but sharpen ours," said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.
Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured above), said a breakthrough was needed: "Reason has to finally prevail, and I say that especially with an eye to the Russian side."
Sweden's Carl Bildt called for simpler language. "We see regular Russian army units operating offensively on the Ukrainian territory against the Ukrainian army. We must call a spade a spade," Bildt said.
No foreign minister elaborated on what additional sanctions might be considered.
For its part, Moscow banned most food imports from the West in August. EU food exports to Russia are worth up to 10 billion euros ($13 billion) annually. Poland, the Netherlands and Germany - nations with strong agricultural sectors - were the hardest hit by this ban during the summer harvest.
Russia rejects claims
Russia on Friday denied NATO's assertions that its troops were engaged in combat in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow that the claims lacked factual evidence.
Lavrov dismissed NATO satellite imagery, showing Russian military convoys, as images taken from computer games.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the denials "hollow."
EU leaders are due to gather in Brussels on Saturday, where they will weigh Ukrainian requests for military assistance.
According to UN figures issued on Friday, almost 2,600 people have been killed since April when the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine began their insurgency against Kyiv's rule.
jr/glb (AP, dpa)