Russian aggression against Ukraine will have 'high price', Angela Merkel warns

Merkel also pushed back against Belarus's "weaponisation" of migrants.
Merkel also pushed back against Belarus's "weaponisation" of migrants. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The European Union must be prepared to enact more sanctions against Russia if the situation in and around eastern Ukraine or on the Belarus-Poland border escalates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Berlin with her Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, the outgoing Chancellor said the EU had to be united on the issues of Belarus's "weaponisation" of migrants against Poland and Russia's deployment of troops to near its border with Ukraine.

"Any further aggression against the sovereignty of Ukraine would carry a high price," Merkel said, adding that defusing the situation should always be the preferred option.

Both Russia and Ukraine staged military drills this week following weeks of rising tensions between Kyiv and Moscow, while thousands of migrants from the Middle East and other hotspots are stranded on the European Union's eastern border, in what the bloc says is a crisis engineered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Poland has deployed military and police to the border to prevent groups of migrants from crossing over from Belarus. Morawiecki said by doing so, Poland was protecting the EU and Germany from a "big wave" of migrants and said the bloc should consider further sanctions against Minsk.

The EU accuses Minsk of flying migrants into the country and pushing them across EU borders, a charge Lukashenko denies, in a bid to destabilize its western neighbours and the whole bloc.

While Merkel said she thought Poland was doing everything possible to avoid any further escalation on the border she raised concerns about the challenging conditions faced by the migrants on both sides.

"We have an interest that people in Belarus are looked after in a humane way," Merkel said. "We have also discussed the humanitarian situation on the Polish side of the border."

Meanwhile, Ukraine's foreign minister warned Russia on Thursday that an attack on his country would incur "political, economic and human losses" and would be too costly.

Russia has been building up forces near its border with Ukraine, and Kyiv, the United States and NATO have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack -- a suggestion the Kremlin has dismissed as false.

"We are not trying to guess what is in (Russian  President Vladimir) Putin's head," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told a televised briefing.

"We are working to give him a clear understanding - a new attack on Ukraine will be too costly, so it is better not to do it."

He said Kyiv's the main goal was to restrain Russia from "further aggressive actions".

"To do this, Moscow must clearly understand what political, economic and human losses it will incur in the event of a new stage of aggression," Kuleba said.

The head of Ukraine's military intelligence told the Military Times outlet this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine's borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.

Ukraine, which wants to join the NATO military alliance, received a large consignment of U.S. ammunition and Javelin missiles earlier this year, prompting criticism from Moscow.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian navy received two refitted former U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats as a part of $2.5-billion package of assistance to Ukraine, and Kuleba said Ukraine could receive one another of the vessels.

Ukraine's ties with Russia collapsed in 2014 after Moscow backed separatists who rose up in eastern Ukraine and took control of territory that Kyiv wants back. Kyiv says some 14,000 people have been killed in fighting since then.

Russia has not turned its back on talks with France, Germany and Ukraine about how to implement a peace deal over eastern Ukraine, Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said on Thursday. 

Reuters