BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON - The European Union took a cautious approach to imposing sanctions against Moscow on Monday, targeting 21 people in Russia and Crimea while leaving open the possibility of adding harsher economic measures when EU leaders meet later this week.
Those targeted include politicians responsible for calling for and organising Sunday's referendum in Crimea, when 97 percent of voters decided the region should secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The EU says the referendum was illegal and does not recognise the result.
"More ... measures in a few days," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said on Twitter, after announcing the decision taken by EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
His Czech counterpart, Lubomir Zaoralek, said earlier that any decisions taken on Monday would be the "first set".
"I would not rule out that this list can be widened at the next meeting of the Council," he said, referring to an EU summit on Thursday and Friday. However, EU sanctions require unanimity among all 28 member states and there are several countries, including Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and Portugal that have reservations about moving too quickly.
As a result, Monday's move was not as far-reaching as initially hoped. At the end of last week, the EU had drawn up a master list of 120-130 names for possible sanctions, which has now been whittled down. Some EU governments, including Poland, had pushed to add a few more names on Monday but failed to win sufficient backing. One EU diplomat said that of the 21 targeted people, 10 were Russian politicians, three were military officials and eight were Crimeans.
There are few signs that the threat of sanctions is having an impact on the ground in Crimea or on Russia, although the threat of sanctions has unnerved investors. Similarly, US President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians on Monday blamed for Russia's military incursion into Crimea, including two top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama's order freezes any assets in the United States and bans travel into the country of 11 people named as responsible for the Russian move into Ukraine's Crimea region.
Among those sanctioned were ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich and Putin aides Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev. Ukraine's parliament, seeking to boost the country's military force in the face of Russia's takeover of the Crimea peninsula, endorsed a presidential decree on Monday to carry out a partial mobilization involving 40,000 reservists.
Crimea’s regional assembly on Monday declared independence from Ukraine and applied to join Russia, saying all Ukrainian state property on the peninsula would be nationalised.
"The republic of Crimea appeals to the United Nations and to all countries of the world to recognise it as an independent state," read a document approved by the assembly. "The Republic of Crimea... applies to the Russian Federation to accept the Republic of Crimea as a member of the Russian Federation," it said.
Putin recognises independent
President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a decree recognising Crimea as an independent state following its vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum that has fanned the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
The Kremlin's official website quoted Putin's decree as recognising "the Republic of Crimea... as a sovereign and independent state."