Wednesday

31st Aug 2016

EU blacklists more Russians, warns on elections

  • Hague (r): 'votes in the Eurovision song contest really were more credible and carried more weight' (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

EU countries have expanded their Russia blacklist and warned Moscow they will trigger economic sanctions if it disrupts elections in Ukraine.

Foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (12 May) added 13 individuals and two entities to a previous list of 48 people under visa bans and asset freezes.

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Their names will be published later on Monday, but ministers hinted they include people linked to the kidnapping of EU monitors last month, persons who profited from the annexation of Crimea, one Russian politician and two Crimean energy firms.

They widened the legal basis of designations to enable them to target more senior Kremlin figures in future.

They also warned Moscow its “attitude and behaviour towards the holding of free and fair presidential elections” in Ukraine on 25 May will be the main factor on whether to attack Russia’s economy.

The message came after Moscow declared it “views with respect the expression of the will of the people” in referendums on independence in eastern Ukraine at the weekend.

Roman Lyagin, a rebel leader in Donetsk, said also on Monday that “joining the Russian Federation would probably be an appropriate step" in future.

The EU’s top diplomats mocked the referendums as fakes, however.

Britain’s William Hague said: “I think the votes in the Eurovision song contest really were more credible and carried more weight.”

He refused to give Russia credit for its soft wording on recognition. “They used the phrase ‘respecting’ - this is a similar phrase to how they reacted to the Crimea referendum, so there is no major departure from how they are treating these things," he added.

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the referendums “cannot and should not be taken seriously.”

Lithuania’s Linas Linkevicius described them as a form of “Russian-sponsored insurgency”.

Several EU ministers repeated the warning on the importance of the 25 May vote for EU-Russia relations.

Steinmeier said: “We have to prepare for a scenario in which the 25 elections cannot take place - contingencies are there if needed. The EU does not want escalation of economic sanctions or an economic war, but we are ready.”

He noted that after almost three months of unrest, even Moscow is no longer in full of command of events. “There are regions entirely without any control,” he said.

Poland’s Radek Sikorski explained: “The red line [for Russia economic sanctions] in the past was armed incursion into Ukraine and now it is unacceptable influence on the elections.”

The EU also threw its weight behind a Swiss peace plan, drawn up under Switzerland’s role as the chairman-in-office of the OSCE, a multilateral body in Vienna.

Swiss President Didier Burkhalter explained during a two-hour briefing in the EU capital how he envisages getting pro-Russia rebels to lay down arms and vacate occupied buildings.

He also detailed plans for round-table talks between rebels and Ukrainian authorities.

The wide-ranging negotiations would explore constitutional reform and minority rights. They are expected to start this week and to be co-chaired by a well-known German diplomat, Wolfgang Ischinger.

But some EU states are wary of Ischinger's appointment, noting that his CV contains the Dayton agreement on creating federal Bosnia in 1995. "Bosnia is a disaster, and it's quite a small country, but Ukraine is the largest country in Europe," an EU contact said.

Meanwhile, the coming days are to see an unprecedented amount of contact between Kiev and the EU in a show of solidarity ahead of the 25 May poll.

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy was in Kiev on Monday night, where he repeated the line that "the EU is prepared to step up sanctions in case of further destabilisation by Russia of Ukraine."

Steinmeier is visiting Kiev and, potentially, eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, while most of the Ukrainian government will spend the day with the European Commission in Brussels.

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