Despite Growing Anger, EU Nations May Balk At Russian Sanctions

Foreign ministers meeting Tuesday in Brussels are threatening deep sanctions against Russia over the Malaysia Airlines crash. But some nations might hesitate because of their economic ties to Russia.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A train arrived in Ukraine's second-largest city. Its cargo was the remains of hundreds of people. They were killed when a Malaysian passenger jet was shot down last week.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the movement of the remains is considered a step forward. Until today pro-Russian separatists had prevented the train from leaving the area near the crash. Now the remains will be taken to the Netherlands for identification.

INSKEEP: European leaders must decide how far they want to go in pressing the resolution of the crisis. They've been reluctant to press Russia too hard. Now the mood is changing. Our coverage starts with NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: In the first hours and days after Malaysia Airline Flight MH17 crashed into rolling Ukrainian farmland, the reaction across much of Europe seemed to be shock. A commercial airline and the passengers on board caught up in a conflict many had hoped would be contained between Ukraine and Russia. But that initial grief has grown into widespread anger after pictures of the crash site showed separatists picking through the wreckage, collecting personal belongings of the victims, mishandling the dead and preventing investigators into the site. Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the separatists' abysmal handling of the situation has struck a chord in many Europeans.

HEATHER CONLEY: Europeans have been absolutely morally outraged at the lack of respect shown to the deceased from MH17. And honestly, the carelessness of treating those that perished in this tragedy - it has really focused European minds clearly and so you are seeing rhetorically a very new and different phase for Europe.

NORTHAM: The anger is focused as much on Russia as it is on the separatists it supports. The Obama Administration points the finger of blame at Moscow, saying it has extraordinary influence over the separatists. Here was President Obama yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Russia has urged them on. Russia has trained them. We know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons including anti-aircraft weapons.

NORTHAM: European leaders have burned up the phone lines to Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to use his influence over the separatists to allow a full investigation of the crash site. Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, which lost nearly 200 people in the crash, was initially reluctant to say who was responsible. But by the weekend, he was talking about tightening sanctions against Russia. British Prime Minister David Cameron said he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande over the weekend about economic repercussions if Russia did not stop interfering in Ukraine.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: It is time to make our power, influence and resources felt. Over the weekend I agreed with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande that we should push our partners in the European Union to consider a new range of hard-hitting economic sections against Russia.

NORTHAM: Cameron said they should take the first step today during the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. Even though emotions are running high and the political will is there, Conley says EU members may be hesitant to impose tough sanctions on Russia. She says much of the Europe's economic recovery is still fragile and there's high unemployment. Conley says most European nations have strong economic ties to Russia and might be reluctant to impose sanctions deep enough to hurt Moscow. And she says Russia could retaliate.

CONLEY: Europe is very vulnerable. Should Russia decide to cut off gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe this coming winter, that would be an extraordinary consequence on Europe. So there is reluctance to provoke Putin into taking more difficult measures. But this is where leadership comes into play.

NORTHAM: Conley says at the same time, Russia is dependent on the European Union. It's its number one energy market and a prominent trading partner. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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