After being half a step behind the United States for months, Europe is likely to come under heavy pressure to impose stronger sanctions on Moscow if convincing evidence emerges of a Russian link to the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner.
Earlier this year, the
But proof of what some Western officials are alleging – that either pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine or the Russian military itself was involved in the missile strike on Malaysian Airlines
"There's really been no repercussions so far for Russia apart from the U.S. stepping up sanctions. The urgency will go up significantly for Europe after this event," said Sarah Lain, an expert on Russia at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based security think tank.
If the EU fails to issue a strong response in the face of evidence implicating Russia in the plane crash, "it'll damage Europe's reputation internationally, because it'll come off as completely weak and ineffectual," Lain said. "At the same time, it's a very complex issue, because each European country has different economic things at stake in terms of dealing with Russia."
Italy, for example, enjoys warm relations with Moscow and has resisted imposing stiffer penalties. France has gone ahead with a $1.6-billion deal to sell Russia two advanced warships, an agreement that critics are urging Paris to rethink.
Business leaders in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, have lobbied the German government not to adopt tougher sanctions on Moscow. Some European nations are heavily dependent on Russian gas.
On Friday, several European leaders expressed outrage over the downing of the Malaysian airliner but have so far refrained from blaming Russia outright, calling for a full and independent investigation into the catastrophe.
“We will turn every stone, and if it becomes clear that this was an attack, I will be personally responsible for guaranteeing that the people responsible will be determined. That’s what we owe the innocent victims and their families,” Prime Minister
Rutte said Russian President
Britain and some Eastern European nations such as Poland have been among the EU's 28 members pressing for tougher action against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian government in Kiev and pro-Russia separatists.
Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s ambassador to the
"This is a dark moment for the international community. The senseless violence unleashed by armed separatists in eastern Ukraine has reached monstrous proportions," Lyall Grant said.
He noted that pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine had previously "claimed responsibility for, indeed gloated publicly over" having shot down Ukrainian military aircraft in the same area.