E.U. readies for long battle with Russia

Dec 19, 2014, 2:14 AM EST
(L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French President Francois Hollande and Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho meet on the sidelines of the European Council meeting in Brussels, on December 18, 2014.
AFP/Getty Images

European Union leaders warned Moscow they were ready exercise their combined muscle over the long haul in a confrontation with an economically wounded Russia if President Vladimir Putin refused to pull back from Ukraine. Reuters writes:

"We must go beyond being reactive and defensive. As Europeans we must regain our self-confidence and realize our own strengths," said Donald Tusk, the former Polish premier who chaired a brief EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

In comments that were part warning to Russia, where falling oil prices and Western trade sanctions have brought financial havoc, and part exhortation to an EU bloc divided between hawks and doves, Tusk said a united European front was vital.

"It is obvious we will not find a long-term perspective for Ukraine without an adequate, consistent and united European strategy towards Russia," he added, his remarks bringing a briskly opinionated new style to the first such meeting he has chaired as president of the leaders' European Council.

"Today we are maybe not too optimistic. But we have to be realistic, not optimistic."

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine still have heavy weapons including tanks and rockets, despite demands by Ukraine and the West for them to disarm. The BBC reports:

Continuing clashes in the Donetsk region have undermined peace efforts. Under the latest measures against Russia, all EU tour operators will be barred from operating in Crimea and European investment there will be banned.

Russia annexed Crimea in March. Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said "we must work with Russia to push it out of Ukraine".

Cars damaged in fighting in eastern Ukraine Fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, despite appeals by the EU And EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed that the EU's channels of communication with Russia must remain open.

There was much surprise among the summit journalists that Mr Tusk managed to reduce the expected two-day summit to one afternoon and evening.

Usually EU summits go on hours longer than planned, often into the early morning.