Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

EU unsure who to blacklist in Ukraine

  • Central Kiev became a war zone on Thursday, amid a visit by French, German, and Polish foreign ministers (Photo: Christiaan Triebert)

EU countries have agreed to impose sanctions on the Ukrainian regime, but disagree who should be on the blacklist and when it should enter into life.

“The EU has decided as a matter of urgency to introduce targeted sanctions including asset freeze and visa ban against those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force,” foreign ministers said after a snap meeting in Brussels on Thursday (20 February).

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“The scale of implementation will be taken forward in the light of developments in Ukraine,” they added.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton told press that “members of the [EU] Council were truly alarmed, shocked by the scale of violence that has taken place and I think this will drive the agenda going forward.”

She also rebuked a Russian TV reporter for saying the EU is at fault for inciting protesters, calling his remarks “ridiculous.”

An EU diplomatic source told EUobserver the names on the blacklist will be “very limited in number” and will, for the most part, designate “leaders of repressive structures,” such as Ukraine's interior ministry and its intelligence service, the SBU.

The diplomat added there was “a huge debate” on when the list should be published in the bloc’s Official Journal, marking its entry into life, and who should be on it.

“In light of the current visit by EU foreign ministers, if there is a prospect the Ukrainian authorities would accept a compromise solution, the modalities of implementation might be different,” the contact said, referring to a visit by French, German, and Polish ministers to Kiev on Thursday, who briefed colleagues in Brussels by videolink.

The diplomat noted that some EU countries also want to list leaders of “radical” opposition groups, but others say this would send a misleading signal that both sides are to blame.

“At the moment there is clearly no unity on this aspect. We might have a list ready tomorrow, but if we can’t agree on a list which makes sense, it’s probably better to wait a couple of days,” the source said.

The measures are likely to disappoint Ukrainian opposition leaders, who say the EU should target pro-government oligarchs.

Ostap Semerak, an advisor to opposition MP Arseniy Yastenyuk, told a meeting of MEPs from the centre-right EPP group in Krakow, Poland, also on Thursday the EU should go after billionaire Ukrainian businessmen Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash, and Victor Pinchuk, who have financial assets and luxury homes in EU countries.

“They are afraid of sanctions and they control at least 70 members from the [ruling] Party of Regions in the Ukrainian parliament. This, together with the oppositon MPs, is more than the half that is needed to make the political decisions that we need,” he said, on the prospect of a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Yanukovych and early elections.

Semerak’s voice quivered with emotion when he spoke of visiting casualties in Ukrainian hospitals on Wednesday and of reading tweets about the growing death toll during Thursday’s EPP debate. “I am seeing that at least seven more people have died while we sit here,” he said.

He told this website that policemen in the “Berkut,” a special unit at the heart of the violence, are willing to shoot fellow Ukrainians because of a “culture of sadism” in the squad.

He noted that some officers in other forces, such as the interior ministry’s “BBVV” units, have defected.

The events in Kiev, which saw dozens of protesters shot dead with live ammunition on Thursday, have prompted self-recrimination in the EU.

Arnaud Danjean, a French centre-right MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s subcommittee on security and defence, said leading EU countries should have handled Ukraine instead of leaving it to “technocrats” in the European Commission and the EU foreign service.

Janusz Lewandowski, the Polish commissioner in charge of the EU budget, noted that member states did not allocate enough money for Ukraine to enable EU institutions to play a role.

Polish centre-right deputy Jacek Saryusz-Wolski said EU foreign ministers should be talking about peace monitors, on the model of an EU operation in Georgia, instead of visa bans at this stage.

For his part, Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans said in Brussels that no matter what the EU does, Ukrainian people will hold Yanukovych to account.

“The people simply don’t want to follow the path set by Yanukovych. So whether we impose sanctions or not, he will have huge problems with his population if he takes this path [of refusing pro-democratic reform],” the minister said.

The EU also adopted a ban on exports of items which can be used for internal repression. But it deleted proposals for a ban on arms sales. An EU diplomat said both measures are symbolic. But imposing an EU arms ban would have made the foreign ministers look silly because Ukraine is one of the world’s largest arms exporters.

Pressure mounts for EU sanctions on Ukraine

A consensus is emerging among member states to impose targeted sanctions on Ukraine following violent clashes in Kiev, which left over two dozen people dead.

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