Kiev: Hesitant European leaders today launch a fresh debate on adopting new sanctions against Russia for its perceived backing of Ukrainian insurgents that could damage their own fragile economies.
The Brussels discussions come as three months of fighting that has already claimed more than 600 lives threatens to spill into all-out civil war with potential repercussions for neighbouring European nations.
Nearly 50 civilians have died in artillery and air strikes across the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk since the weekend that both sides blame on each other.
At least 11 civilians were killed yesterday morning alone when their apartment bloc crumbled after being hit by an apparent air strike in the rebel-controlled southeastern town of Snizhne.
Ukraine called the incident a "provocation" by the separatists aimed at making it look like the new pro-Western leaders in Kiev were bombing ethnic Russians who cherish their Soviet-era ties with Moscow.
Kiev has also warned that Russia had parked thousands of troops along its entire border with Ukraine in preparation for a possible invasion.
And Washington has issued increasingly transparent hints that it was growing impatient with the European Union`s cautious approach and preparing to adopt punitive steps against Russia`s defence and financial sectors on its own.
Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Vasyl Zvarych argued yesterday that "vast proof of Russia`s involvement in the rebels` actions provide further grounds for adopting tougher sanctions -- a third level of sanctions aimed at countering Russia`s aggression."
But EU diplomats have previously said they were only ready to expand targeted measures against Russians and pro-Kremlin Ukrainians held responsible for the bloody uprising and Moscow`s earlier annexation of Crimea.
The list now includes 61 names and has been brushed aside as meaningless by the Kremlin.
Diplomatic sources said EU leaders were also considering halting or curbing funding for new projects in Russia provided through the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the EU`s European Investment Bank (EIB).