BRUSSELS -- Faced with few options to counter Russia's military incursion in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, European Union foreign ministers on Monday sought a joint response possibly threatening economic sanctions but leaving dialogue as the most viable way forward.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the EU faced "the most serious crisis" since the Balkan wars two decades ago. The ministers held an emergency meeting to assess the weekend escalation in the Crimea and said any EU-Russia confrontation would hurt both sides.
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Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said sanctions against Russia are an option that will be discussed. Several other ministers, however, said the immediate focus should be on diplomacy and forging a direct dialogue between Russia and the new leadership in Ukraine to deescalate the situation.
Spain's foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, said discussions re also underway on convening an emergency summit of EU heads of state and government Thursday.
The 28-nation EU and Russia have long been uneasy partners on a continent in transition where much of central Europe has been tilting westward over the past years. When Ukraine was on the point of doing likewise last November, its President Viktor Yanukovych suddenly switched toward Moscow, setting off the crisis in Kiev.
Ever since, the EU and Moscow have been involved in a war of words that sometimes harks back to Cold War rhetoric. However, the EU remains Russia's biggest trading partner, and Russia is the EU's third-largest partner, mostly thanks to exports of raw materials such as oil and gas.
Economic sanctions would hurt all sides, said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. "Those consequences will be bad for everyone, but for Russia they will be far worse than for the EU. We can target other markets if we have to. (Russia) will have trouble to quickly find other customers," he said.