Wednesday

24th May 2017

EU and US impose first round of Russia blacklists

The EU and US have blacklisted a handful of Russian officials and MPs over the partition of Ukraine, while threatening to go further if need be.

The US visa ban and asset freeze names 11 people.

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Two of them - Sergey Glazyev and Vladislav Surkov - are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest aides. One is Russia’s colourful deputy PM, Dmitry Rogozin, while another is the speaker of the Russian senate, Valentina Matviyenko.

The EU list contains 21 names.

Ten of them are minor Russian MPs and senators. Three are security chiefs: the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Alexander Vitko; the commander of its Western District, Alekseevich Sidorov; and the commander of the Southern District, Alexander Galkin. The rest are pro-Russian Ukrainian nationals from Crimea.

If any of them are found to have financial assets in Europe, they will be seized by national governments. They will also be denied entry to the 28 EU member states.

US President Barack Obama said on TV on Monday (17 March) that “if Russia intervenes further in Ukraine, the US stands ready to impose further measures.”

British foreign minister William Hague noted in Brussels “today’s [EU] list is not set in stone for the future.”

An EU diplomatic contact said if Russia makes matters worse - by annexing Crimea, or by sending troops into east and south Ukraine - the EU will designate more people: “This is the a-list. But we can also trigger b-, c- and d- lists, right to the very top. There are lots of names in the air, which gives us room for maneuvre.”

In other measures, the EU agreed to send observers from the Vienna-based multilateral body, the OSCE, to east and south Ukraine “in the next few hours” to monitor violent unrest.

They also said they would sign the political chapters of an EU association agreement with Ukraine at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday.

Diplomatic contacts noted that Poland, Lithuania, and the UK wanted to blacklist more senior Russian people already, but Finland, France, and Germany did not.

France’s Laurent Fabius told press “there is a need for dialogue and to avoid escalation.”

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier noted “We're doing a balancing act, whereby we can still find a diplomatic solution and not paint ourselves into a corner.”

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski voiced disappointment at the EU’s final outcome, noting: “Yes, the US is from Mars and we’re from Venus - get used to it.”

But he added there is still time to go further because Russian targets are vulnerable to EU action: “The assets are not just cash that you can move around so easily. I don’t know how quickly you can sell a house in London or Cyprus.”

Lithuania’s Linas Linkevicius said it is unlikely the EU move will make Russia retreat. “We see the situation developing in a different direction so far,” he noted.

The UK’s Hague was more blunt, saying: “Nobody is pretending this [the EU blacklist] changes the calculations of Russian President Putin.”

Meanwhile, EU officials defended the decision to sign just the political part of the EU-Ukraine treaty.

The plan to sign the rest of the accord - a free trade pact - with Ukraine after elections on 25 May has caused concern that if the situation gets worse the trade pact could fall by the wayside.

One official told EUobserver the interim government currently has “more pressing” priorities than trade reform, however.

“It makes more sense for the new government to take on board the far-reaching obligations on reform with the clear backing of the Ukrainian population after election campaigns which explain how the treaty works and which undo some of the negative Russian propaganda on the subject,” the EU official said.

Investigation

Fight club: Russian spies seek EU recruits

Russian intelligence services are using martial arts clubs to recruit potential troublemakers in Germany and other EU countries, security experts have warned.

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