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22nd Jul 2018

EU blacklists 13 Ukrainians over Russia war

EU countries have blacklisted 13 Ukrainian “separatists” and five entities, amid uncertainty on what to do if the conflict escalates.

Ambassadors agreed the list in what one EU source described as “quick” and “easy” talks in Brussels on Thursday (27 November).

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The visa ban and asset freeze enter into force on Saturday, when the bloc publishes the names in its Official Journal.

A second EU contact described the 13 individuals as "small and irrelevant".

The entities are organs of the Russia-occupied "republics" in east Ukraine which handle propaganda and administration.

The sanctions are a direct response to what the rebels called “elections” in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on 2 November.

EU states say the votes violated the Minsk Protocol, a Russia-Ukraine peace accord, and increase the prospect of a frozen conflict.

The ambassadors on Thursday also discussed a new European Commission proposal on “strengthening the EU's non-recognition policy of the illegal annexation of Crimea” by Russia in March.

It includes an “enhanced ban on investments in Crimea”. The EU source said the ban is "tough", but is likely to be "watered down" before it is adopted.

The EU deliberations come amid concern that Russia will escalate the conflict before winter sets in.

The Insider, a Ukrainian journal, reported on Thursday that Russian president Vladimir Putin threatened Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko in a phonecall on Wednesday.

It said, citing a Kiev source, that Putin ordered Poroshenko to recognise the rebel republics and to abjure Nato aspirations if he wants peace.

Russian and Ukrainian spokesmen declined to comment on the call.

But Poroshenko told parliament on Thursday that he rejects any form of “federalisation”.

All boils down to Merkel

EU leaders, who meet in Brussels next month, will debate whether to increase economic sanctions if Putin goes further.

But there is no guarantee of a forceful reaction if he does.

For her part, German chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag on Wednesday that EU sanctions are “unavoidable” if the Minsk Protocol is abandoned.

But her foreign minister, from the Social Democratic Party in the ruling coalition, is wary of going too far.

“An economically isolated Russia, one that may face collapse, would not help improve security in Europe or in Ukraine, but would pose a danger to itself and others,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a seminar hosted by the Suddeutsche Zeitung daily on Thursday.

Some Nordic and eastern EU countries are more hawkish. But they are letting Germany take the lead.

“It all boils down to Merkel. So long as she remains firm, the EU will hold its course. But if she weakens, the Socialists are ready to embrace Putin back into their midst”, a senior source from one pro-sanctions country told EUobserver.

Italy reset

Meanwhile, the EU’s new foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, gave an insight into Italy’s thinking in a recent interview with Austria’s Kurier newspaper.

She said the EU and Russia need a “restart” in relations and that part-Russophone regions in east Ukraine should get “autonomy”.

Some Polish MEPs criticised her on Twitter.

It later emerged that she spoke to Kurier, which published the story this week, before she stepped down as Italy’s foreign minister and took up her EU post on 1 November.

The chronology means that her remarks represent Italy’s point of view, not a joint EU position.

EU countries keen to rebuild Russia relations

Forty eight hours after Nato said Russia is pouring troops into Ukraine, EU ministers opted to blacklist some “separatists” while trying to restart talks with Moscow.

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