The European Union is being assaulted on multiple fronts by Russia and must unite behind new economic sanctions, Baltic and central European leaders said on Thursday, with Lithuania citing possible Russian military strikes from Belarus.
The warnings at an EU summit were some of the most direct in recent weeks as the United States and its NATO allies seek to deter any possible Russian attack on Ukraine and reduce Moscow's margin for surprise.
EU leaders will warn of "massive consequences" if Russia were to invade Ukraine, according to a draft final summit statement seen by Reuters, the same stance taken by Washington.
"We really are facing a series of attacks. I see them all as associated," Latvia Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told reporters, listing Middle Eastern migrants sent by Belarus to EU borders, artificially high natural gas prices orchestrated by Moscow and Russian disinformation.
While Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said any dispute with Russia needed to be resolved by "peaceful means", Russia's Baltic neighbours tried to press home what they see as Moscow's attempts to blur the line between peace and war.
"We are probably facing the most dangerous situation in the last 30 years, I am talking about not only Ukraine but the eastern flank of NATO," said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, a day after EU leaders held a summit with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics in Brussels. read more
Nord stream 'Blackmail'
Ukraine is currently the main flashpoint between Russia and the West. The United States says Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's borders, possibly in preparation for an invasion. Moscow says its actions are purely defensive and accuses Kyiv and the West of provocative behaviour.
"I'm worried because the military concentration, especially on the Ukrainian border with Russia (is) very strong," said Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, as he arrived for the one-day summit.
"And so there is no doubt that Russia is using military power to make pressure ... we are prepared to avoid such kind of surprises we met during the occupation of Crimea," he said, referring to Russia's seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014. NATO says that since then, Russia has sought to destabilise the West with new nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and covert action, which Moscow denies.
Back then, the EU, along with the United States, imposed economic sanctions on Russia, targeting its energy, banking and defence sectors in response.
Jansa said hitting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany to prevent it becoming operational was an option.
Latvia's Karins accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline "as a sort of blackmail against the EU, stating falsely that if we want to have more gas we have to open up to Nord Stream 2."
Russia is ready for constructive work with the West on European security proposals despite differences between the two sides, the RIA news agency quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Thursday.