EU blacklists three Putin 'cronies'
The EU on Wednesday (30 July) for the first time included three of Vladimir Putin's loyal oligarchs and his propaganda chief on an existing blacklist in response to Russia's continued "destabilisation" of Ukraine.
The decision, published in the EU official journal, lists eight new names and three more entities to the travel ban and asset freeze list that already included 87 names and 20 organisations.
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First listed is Alexey Alexeyevich Gromov, Putin's deputy chief of staff "responsible for instructing Russian media outlets to take a line favourable with the separatists in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, therefore supporting the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea".
Gromov, 54 years old, is a Soviet-era trained diplomat in charge of Kremlin's media relations since 1996.
Three Ukrainian separatists are also on the list: Oksana Tchigrina, spokewoman for the so-called Lugansk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine who defended the shooting down of a Ukrainian military airplane and the taking of hostages.
Boris Litvinov, chairman of the "Supreme Council" of another separatist region - Donetsk - is listed for having organised an illegal referendum which proclaimed the independence of that "republic."
Sergey Abisov, "minister of interior of the Republic of Crimea" is on the list for having accepted this post - to which Putin appointed him - and thus having "undermined the territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity of Ukraine."
Further listed is 40-year old Konstantin Valerevich Malofeev, the former employer of the Donetsk separatists' leader. Malofeev is under investigation by Ukrainian authorities for supporting the separatists financially. He also spoke in favour of Crimea's annexation and said that "you can't incorporate the whole of Ukraine into Russia. The East (of Ukraine) maybe."
The inner circle
But the novelty of these fresh sanctions is the inclusion of what diplomats call "Putin's cronies".
First among the cronies is 62-year old Arkady Romanovich Rotenberg, "a long-time acquaintance of President Putin and his former judo sparring partner."
According to Forbes magazine, Rotenberg's fortune is estimated at €2.7bn, as he and his brother Boris (who is not on the list) acquired subsidiaries of the gas giant Gazprom.
The official journal notes that Rotenberg was awarded lucrative state contracts, particularly linked to the Sochi Olympic Games earlier this year.
"He is a major shareholder of Giprotransmost, a company which has received a public procurement contract by a Russian state-owned company to conduct the feasibility study of the construction of a bridge from Russia to the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea, therefore consolidating its integration into the Russian Federation which in turn further undermines the territorial integrity of Ukraine," the official journal reads.
Another old-time friend of the Russian President is 63-year old Yuriy Valentinovich Kovalchuk, co-founder of Ozero Dacha, "a cooperative society bringing together an influential group of individuals around President Putin".
Kovalchuk is chairman and largest shareholder (38%) of Bank Rossiya, "considered the personal bank of senior officials of the Russian Federation."
"Since the illegal annexation of Crimea, Bank Rossiya has opened branches across Crimea and Sevastopol, thereby consolidating their integration into the Russian Federation."
"Furthermore, Bank Rossiya has important stakes in the National Media Group which in turn controls television stations which actively support the Russian government's policies of destabilisation of Ukraine," the official journal explains.
The third "crony" is 64-year old Nikolay Terentievich Shamalov, the second-largest shareholder (10%) of Bank Rossiya and also a co-founder of the Ozero Dacha group of Putin friends.
Three companies have also been added to the blacklist.
First is Almaz-Antey, a Russian state-owned manufacturer of missiles used by separatists in eastern Ukraine to shoot down planes.
The EU was outraged when one of these missiles - believed to have been fired by separatists - shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, killing 298 people, mostly EU citizens on 17 July.
"The Russian authorities have been providing heavy weaponry to separatists in eastern Ukraine, contributing to the destabilisation of Ukraine. These weapons are used by the separatists, including for shooting down airplanes. As a state-owned company, Almaz-Antei therefore contributes to the destabilisation of Ukraine," the official journal reads.
Dobrolet, a subsidiary of a Russian state-owned airline, is also listed for having operated flights between Moscow and Crimea. "It therefore facilitates the integration of the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation and undermines Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," the EU decision says.
The Russian National Commercial Bank, which has become the main bank in Crimea after the annexation, is listed for having "supported materially and financially the actions of the Russian government to integrate Crimea into the Russian Federation, thus under mining Ukraine's territorial integrity."
A whole list of banned exports to Crimea is also annexed to the decision - ranging from financial services to chemicals and pipelines.
The EU official journal on Thursday is expected to publish a further list of economic sanctions applying to Russia in response to the downing of the MH17 and the continued arming of Ukrainian rebels.
EU officials said this was meant as a "strong warning" for Russia to change course.
But so far, Moscow showed no sign of a strategy rethink.
On Wednesday, the Russian central bank said it will provide support to the state-owned banks which will be hit by the EU sanctions, after already being blacklisted on US markets.
"If necessary, appropriate measures will be taken to support these organisations in order to protect the interests of their customers, depositors and creditors," it said in a statement.
In addition, the Russian sanitary authority announced an import ban on Polish fruit and vegetables, adding that other EU countries may be soon targeted.
On the ground, little appear to have changed either.
Reuters reported Nato military commander General Philip Breedlove on Wednesday as saying that the number of Russian troops and weaponry along the border with Ukraine is increasing and is "well over 12,000".