EU leaders have agreed to prepare tougher sanctions that could be imposed on Russia within days. The concensus emerged after several hours of talks to decide how to respond to the deepening crisis in eastern Ukraine.
The outgoing president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, emerged from discussions in the early hours of Sunday to tell reporters that the 28 heads of state or government meeting in Brussels had agreed to direct the bloc's experts to prepare fresh measures against Russia as a matter of urgency.
"The European Council says it stands ready to take further significant steps and urges the (European) Commission to take urgent preparatory work and present proposals within a week," Van Rompuy said after discussions on the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine concluded.
"In the past three days the situation has dramatically escalated," Van Rompuy added. "Our efforts must now be directed at stopping the bloodshed."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured above left) said they had asked the Commission to prepare the sanctions swiftly, so that a decision on whether to actually impose them could be taken within a few days. She said the new sanctions were to be imposed if the situation on the ground in eastern Ukraine didn't improve or even worsened over the coming days.
The decision to go ahead with the preparation of new sanctions came after a day of summit talks in Brussels, which focused largely on Ukraine, but also saw the leaders agree on who should fill two of the bloc's top jobs.
Hours before Van Rompuy's announcement, it had become clear that the leaders had reached a consensus on the need for further measures against Moscow, after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (above, right) briefed them on the latest developments and asked for a strong response from the EU to the "military aggression and terror" facing his country.
"Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine," Poroshenko told reporters. "There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole ... of Europe," he added, speaking in English.
'Point of no return'
Poroshenko also said that he believed the situation in eastern Ukraine was nearing a "point of no return" and that failure to halt the violence quickly could lead to a "full-scale war."
Outgoing European Comission President Jose Manuel Barroso also warned of a "point of no return," but he stressed that Brussels wanted a political resolution to the crisis.
"We are ready to take very strong and clear measures but we are keeping our doors open to a political solution, Barroso said.
Poroshenko said that fresh talks aimed at bringing an end to the fighting were to be held in the Belarusian capital, Minsk on Monday. The talks are to include representatives of Kyiv, Moscow and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
pfd/crh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)