BRUSSELS, Feb 21 (Reuters) – The European Union joined calls on Monday for Russia not to annex or recognize breakaway Ukrainian regions, threatening to impose sanctions if Moscow did.

Ignoring warnings, the Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin told French and German leaders in phone calls on Monday that he plans to sign a decree soon recognizing the two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent entities . Read more

“If there is annexation, there will be sanctions, and if there is recognition, I will put the sanctions on the table and the ministers will decide,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. , following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Borrell was speaking before the Kremlin read out Putin’s pleas and confirmed he had told the French president and German chancellor that he planned to recognize the independence of the breakaway regions. Read more

Borrell’s formulation signaled that it could be more difficult for the EU, whose members have different interests and views on how to deal with Moscow, to agree on a common position and sanctions, in the event of recognition, than it would have been for true annexation.

“We call on President Putin to respect international law,” Borrell said. “We are ready to react with a strong united front in case he decides” to ignore these calls, he said.

Western countries fear that a buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine in recent weeks could be a prelude to an invasion, which Moscow denies.

The United States and its European allies have said any attack would trigger tough sanctions on Moscow, but Kiev wants those imposed now, its Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in Brussels on Monday.

“We believe there are good and legitimate reasons to impose at least some of the sanctions now to demonstrate that the European Union is not just talking about sanctions, but also walking,” he said.

Earlier today, EU ministers backed plans announced last month for a €1.2 billion financial aid loan package for Ukraine, and also agreed in principle to a request long-time Ukrainian for a small-scale mission of military instructors to help train officers. .

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Additional reporting by Marine Strauss, Bart Meijer and John Chalmers Editing by Timothy Heritage, Gareth Jones, Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.