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European Union

Ukraine crisis expected to overshadow EU summit

EU leaders are set to meet to try to agree on who should fill some of the bloc's top jobs. However, recent developments in eastern Ukraine promise to have EU leaders discussing possible tougher sanctions against Russia.

Commission looks to fill top EU jobs

European Union leaders are set to gather in Brussels this Saturday for a summit in which they are hoping to reach a consensus on who should fill two of the 28-member bloc's top posts.

In the days leading up to the talks, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is said to have emerged as the favorite to replace Herman van Rompuy as president of the European Council, while Italy's foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, is seen as the frontrunner to take over the job of the EU's foreign policy coordinator, currently held by Britain's Catherine Ashton.

The other key post of president of the European Commission was effectively filled at a previous summit, with the leaders eventually agreeing on former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, despite strong opposition from Britain.

What to do about Ukraine?

However, Saturday's talks are expected to be largely overshadowed by discussions on how to respond to Russia's apparent activities in eastern Ukraine.

Since the Western military alliance NATO accused Moscow on Thursday of sending more than 1,000 Russian soldiers into eastern Ukraine, the tone of public statements both from the EU and Russia has sharpened.

Harsher tones

Some EU foreign ministers meeting in Milan on Friday suggested that the bloc should respond to the latest developments with tougher sanctions on Russia. Germany's position in particular appears to have hardened with Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, speaking for the first time of a Russian "military intervention" in Ukraine.

In Milan, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also raised the alarm.

"All our hopes of de-escalation have been disappointed and the situation is showing signs that it is now out of control," Steinmeier said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the EU needed to send Russia a clear message that its activities in eastern Ukraine were unacceptable.

"This is the second invasion of Ukraine in a year. We have to call a spade a spade and stop playing around," he said.

'Don't mess' with Russia

The tone coming out of Moscow on Friday was also harsher than previously had been the case.

Speaking at a youth forum in Russia's Tver region, President Vladimir Putin compared the Ukrainian government forces efforts to defeat pro-Russia rebels in the east of the country to tactics used by the Nazis in the Second World War. He also said that while Russia would seek to avoid being drawn into a large-scale conflict, it was prepared to defend itself.

"Our partners must understand that is better not to mess with us," Putin said.

pfd/tj (dpa, AFP, AP)

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