BRUSSELS: The European Union on Wednesday (Nov 28) strongly condemned Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian ships but, after three days of debate, member states failed to agree to threaten new sanctions.
"We are dismayed at this use of force by Russia which, against the backdrop of increasing militarisation in the area, is unacceptable," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
The statement was strongly worded but will disappoint some EU members hoping for a harder joint line, after officials had earlier said the bloc was considering new sanctions against Moscow.
Senior officials from the 28 EU member states have been debating intensely how to respond since the weekend, when Russian patrol boats fired on and boarded three Ukrainian vessels in the waters off Crimea.
The European Union has already rejected Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and, along with the United States, imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions designed to force Moscow to back down.
But some EU members, notably Poland, want Brussels to respond to the latest incident with another round of measures, which could be agreed when the bloc's foreign ministers meet next month.
France and Germany, however, are more cautious and they represent the Union as guarantors of the Minsk Process, a diplomatic vehicle set up with Ukraine and Russia to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.
On Tuesday, Austria's foreign minister Karin Kneissl, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency said "time will tell" when asked about sanctions, adding: "But it will need to be reviewed."
Poland's President Andrzej Duda was more emphatic, declaring that if there was a move to impose "further sanctions against Russia, Poland will join them."
Wednesday's statement reiterated demands that Russia release the seized boats and their crews, and restated Europe's "full support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine".
But it stopped short of threatening sanctions, saying only the EU "is determined to act appropriately, in close coordination with its international partners".