EU readies new sanctions on defiant Russia
EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels at 9.30 local time on Thursday (24 July) are set to discuss a raft of new sanctions on Russia, as Moscow has shown no signs of wanting to meet an EU ultimatum over Ukraine.
According to a discussion paper seen by the Financial Times, among the sanctions discussed are a ban on Europeans purchasing Russian financial products, restrictions on exporting energy technology items for deep-sea drilling, Arctic exploration and shale oil extraction, as well as an arms embargo and an export ban on goods that have "dual use" - both for civilian and military purposes.
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The most detailed measure explored is the financial one, that would prohibit the purchase of Russian bonds or shares issued by any of the Russian banks with more than 50 percent state ownership.
Adoption of these broader economic sanctions would require the agreement of EU leaders. However Berlin, traditionally cautious in moving ahead with sanctions on Russia, indicated it is losing patience with Moscow.
Spokesman Georg Streiter said Chancellor Angela Merkel now wanted "swift" economic sanctions, after Moscow's failure to react EU demands to stop formenting unrest in Ukraine and to ease access to the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane.
"Russia has so far promised much and delivered nothing. Enough's enough," a spokeswoman for the German foreign office said, according to Reuters.
EU ambassadors are also set to discuss putting more Russian officials and companies related to the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine on an existing blacklist "at latest by the end of July" as agreed by EU foreign ministers on Tuesday.
At that meeting, foreign ministers said Russia should stop arming the rebels, secure the border to Ukraine and use its influence with the separatists so that international inspectors are granted full access to the crash site of the MH17 plane, believed to have been shot down by the rebels.
The pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine did in the end cooperate and returned the bodies and the blackboxes to the Dutch-led international team.
However, the general situation on the ground appears to have altered little. Two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down on Wednesday, reportedly from Russian territory.
Political relations remain tense too. Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev pressured Ukraine not to ratify an already signed trade agreement with the EU. A lower-ranking Russian official detailed the potential retaliatory measures if Kiev goes ahead, including a full-blown food import ban.
Meanwhile, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian separatists, Alexander Khodakovsky, told Reuters that another rebel group based in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, did posses the Buk missile system used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane.
“That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” Khodakovsky said.
International inspectors at the crash site also found parts of the fuselage that had been cut into pieces by the rebels. The two black boxes handed over earlier this week seem not to have been tampered with, however.
A day of mourning was observed in the Netherlands on Wednesday as the first 40 coffins of the 298 victims, mostly Dutch nationals, were flown in to Eindhoven. Families might have to wait for months still, as the identification process is just beginning and not all bodies have been recovered from the wreckage.