Ukraine conflict: EU to debate fresh Russia sanctions
EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels to discuss imposing further sanctions on Russia following an upsurge in fighting in east Ukraine.
The meeting was called after pro-Russian rebels attacked the port of Mariupol at the weekend.
The EU and the US have already slapped asset freezes and travel bans on Russian individuals and businesses as well as Ukrainian separatist leaders.
Nato says hundreds of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles are in east Ukraine.
Moscow denies direct involvement but says some Russian volunteers are fighting alongside the rebels.
BBC Europe Correspondent Damian Grammaticas says EU ministers will discuss fresh sanctions as well as extending the duration of existing measures.
EU leaders meeting on 12 February will have to confirm any new measures. They may also discuss possible new financial sanctions on Russia, co-ordinated with the US, our correspondent adds.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told the BBC that European values were under attack in Ukraine.
“If we see no signs of improvement we should proceed with further sanctions,” he said. “How many people should be killed in order to realise that lines were crossed many times?”
The White House gave a strong signal on Wednesday that it was considering further sanctions against Russia over its support for the separatists.
US Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke on the phone after which the US condemned “Russian-backed separatists” and the “heavy toll that the Russian-backed offensive in the east was having on Ukraine’s civilian population”.
“As long as Russia continues its blatant disregard of its obligations… the costs for Russia will continue to rise,” Mr Biden was reported to have told Mr Poroshenko.
EU leaders issued a rare joint statement on Tuesday instructing foreign ministers “to consider any appropriate action” after the violence in Mariupol.
Fighting continued on Wednesday with separatists accusing Ukrainian forces of shelling civilian areas.
Rebels have almost fully encircled government troops in the city of Debaltseve in the Donetsk region, which has a strategic railway hub.
Witnesses said the town appeared deserted on Wednesday with many buildings damaged. Shell fire could be heard in the background.
Also on Wednesday, the Russian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resumed its boycott in protest at Ukraine sanctions.
The Strasbourg-based Council, the oldest Europe-wide political body, is tasked with upholding rights, democracy and rule of law across the continent.
It suspended Russia’s voting rights last year after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and renewed the ban on Wednesday.
In response, Russia said it would boycott sessions until the year’s end.
More than 4,800 people have been killed and some 1.2 million have fled since rebels took control of parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in April.
It followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.