British prime minister David Cameron has attempted to push a series of hardened economic sanctions against Russia and was trying to overcome the reluctance of France and Germany to co-operate in a Europe-wide response to the calamity that struck Flight MH17.
The British want tough restrictions on Russian banks and airlines and to freeze the assets of the Russian oligarchs and cronies who support Putin, but who have substantial financial interests in London.
Such a move would have short term financial consequences for the city, the chancellor George Osborne conceded, but would also have impact on high profile identities such as Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club.
The European Union countries were meeting in Brussels overnight to consider the request.
The Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans arrived for the EU meeting fresh from the United Nations in New York demanding a new and aggressive response to Russia’s involvement in the tragedy.
“This is not about economics and trade,’’ he said on entering the meeting.
“This is about safety and justice for nearly 200 Dutch who cruelly died.
“What’s changed since Thursday should also be reflected in the policies of the European Union”.
Britain has already imposed some sanctions, which has raised the ire of Vladimir Putin, who refused to take calls from Cameron in the first three days following the disaster.
Cameron now wants to up the ante further and impose the strongest possible economic sanctions against Russia — but the €1.2 billion French warships deal with Russia and the reliance of German French and Italian defence sales to Russia was a stumbling block.
Cameron said it was unthinkable for France to complete the order for Mistral warships for Vladimir Putin.
“We have already said we would not sell further arms to Russia,” he said.
“We believe other European countries should be doing the same thing. Frankly in this country it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like the one outstanding that the French have. But we need to put the pressure on with all our partners to say that we cannot go on doing business as usual with a country when it’s behaving in this way.”
Cameron told the British parliament that Germany, France and Italy combined were responsible for 90 percent of defence exports to Russia.
“It is time to make our power, influence and resources felt,’’ Cameron said. “If Russia does not change course then we must be clear Europe must keep increasing the pressure.
“Russia cannot expect to continue enjoying access to European markets, European capital, European knowledge and technical expertise while she fuels conflict in one of Europe’s neighbours.
“We must do what is necessary to stand up to Russia and put an end to the conflict in Ukraine before any more innocent lives are lost.”