EU leaders ready long confrontation with Russia

EU leaders ready long confrontation with Russia
(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 European Union leaders summit in Brussels, on December 18, 2014.

European Union leaders warned Moscow they were ready to 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.

"We must go beyond being reactive and defensive. As Europeans we must regain our self-confidence and realise 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."

Meeting on a day when Putin mounted a wordy defence of policies on Ukraine and the economy, then leaders of the 28 EU states conferred on how to handle their giant eastern neighbour longer term after a year of crisis and mutual trade sanctions that have brought warnings of a return to Cold War.

Some in the EU have said they should switch their focus away from supporting Ukraine to seeking a detente with Moscow. That might be in the longer term interests of businesses, which have suffered loss of trade and fear a spillover from the Russian financial crisis.

But for all their differences in attitudes to Russia, leaders made clear their determination to stick together as they have over the past year, while offering Putin both the threat of stick and the carrot of mutually beneficial commerce.

They agreed to keep up financial aid to help Ukraine carry out reforms to its post-Soviet political and economic systems.

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