Saturday

22nd Sep 2018

Analysis

Who's next on the EU's Russia blacklist?

  • The EU can target almost anyone who supports Kremlin policy on Ukraine (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

The EU’s next round of Russia sanctions is to be limited to blacklisting more names, with diplomats and kremlinologists helping EUobserver to identify 28 potential targets.

Foreign ministers will discuss the measures in Brussels on Thursday (29 January).

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  • Putin's war on Ukraine is being accompanied by a crackdown on dissent in Russia (Photo: Antonio Grossi)

Their draft conclusions call “on the EEAS [the EU foreign service] and the [European] Commission to present a proposal for decision within a week on additional listings”.

They say the visa bans and asset freezes will target people guilty of “threatening or undermining Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

But the legal act which underpins the decision, amended last July, lets them target almost anybody who supports Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his Ukraine policies.

The EU has already listed 132 people and 28 entities.

Most of them are Russian officials, MPs, security chiefs, and their agents in Ukraine. But some of them are what EU officials call “cronies” - oligarchs and confidantes of Putin, such as Arkady Rotenberg and Yuriy Kovlachuk. A more creative listing is Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of the Rossiya Segodnya propaganda outlet.

EUobserver asked eight EU and US diplomats and officials based in Brussels, Kiev, and Washington who might be added. It also asked two Russia experts: US academic Marc Galeotti and Ukrainian activist Roman Sohn.

None of the following names might end up on the list. But the suggestions are:

Kremlin options

Igor Shuvalov (first deputy prime minister)

Sergei Shoigu (defence minister)

Grigory Karasin (deputy foreign minister)

Sergei Ivanov (head of Putin's administration)

Nikolai Nikiforov (minister of communications and mass media)

Elvira Nabiullina (head of Russia’s central bank)

Konstantin Dolgov (foreign ministry envoy on human rights, accused Ukrainian army of war crimes, says EU states harming Russian-speaking minorities)

Alexander Bastrykin (head of the investigative committee of the general prosecutor's office, accused of politically motivated cases)

Vladimir Markin (prosecutor responsible for case against Natalia Savchenko, a captured Ukrainian military pilot)

Aleksei Pushkov (chair of the Duma foreign affairs committee, recently blamed Ukraine for shooting down flight MH17 last year)

Irina Yarovaya (chair of the Duma anti-corruption committee)

Roman Khudiakov (nationalist MP)

Franz Klintsevich (nationalist MP)

Viktor Palagin (chief of the Crimea branch of the FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence service)

Crony options

Alexey Miller (chairman of Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom)

Igor Sechin (head of oil firm Rosneft and Putin confidante)

Vladimir Yakunin (head of Russian Railways and confidante, co-ordinates relations with anti-EU parties in Europe)

Suleyman Kerimov (potash billionaire and Putin confidante)

Igor Kesaev (head of arms firm Degtiariov)

Sergey Beim (CEO of ChornomorNaftoGaz, an expropriated Crimean company)

Other options

Margarita Simonyan (editor-in-chief of the state-owned RT broadcaster and of Rossiya Segodnya)

Mikhail Porechenkov (popular actor and film maker, filmed shooting at Ukrainian troops in Donetsk while wearing press insignia)

Alexander Dugin (far-right political theorist, advocates “genocide” of Ukrainians and expansion of Russian borders)

Nikita Mikhalkov (nationalist film maker)

Zurab Chachvadze (the head of St.Basil the Great Foundation, a charity said to sponsor the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic)

Aleksandr Grishunin (St.Basil the Great Foundation executive director)

Aleksandr Ferbert (head of a sister charity, the Russian Foundation of Donbas Compatriots)

Untouchables?

Two other obvious names are Russian leader Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

But listing Putin is being held back as a last resort. Lavrov is an even dimmer prospect - the Syrian foreign minister stayed off EU lists a lot longer than the Syrian president in the name of maintaining diplomatic contacts.

Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, is directly responsible for the war. But he might stay off because Western military chiefs - US defence chief Chuck Hagel is said to speak to him regularly - also want to keep channels open.

Contacts said Kremlin insiders Shuvalov and Karasin, as well as Duma speaker Pushkov, might be too high-level for the time being.

One official said listing Shuvalov and Karasin would send the message: “We don’t believe there are reformers or liberals in the Kremlin any more … We've reached a point where we don't even want to talk to you anymore”.

An EU contact said Nabiullina, the central bank chief, should be listed for “helping to finance Putin’s terrorist operations in Ukraine”.

He added that listing the film maker Mikhalkov - a Russian national treasure, known for his film Burnt by the Sun - would “definitely piss off the Russians, but he deserves it for his unwavering support of Putin and of Greater Russia”.

Economic options

The EU ministers’ draft conclusions also ask EU institutions to do “further preparatory work … on further restrictive measures”.

The phrase relates to deeper or wider EU economic sanctions.

The existing measures target five Russian state-owned banks, three energy firms, and three arms firms. They prohibit EU entities from buying their bonds with a maturity of 30 or more days and from giving them loans.

The measures also forbid sales of arms, dual-use items, and a list of equipment used in deep water oil and gas exploration. The dual-use ban is limited to arms firms and to nine mixed defence-civilian companies.

EU sources say the most likely next step would be to “deepen” the current measures.

An EU options paper from last September, seen by EUobserver, envisages a ban on buying Russian sovereign bonds and shortening the maturity of permitted corporate bonds.

It also envisages stopping dual-use sales to civilian firms and expanding the inventory of forbidden oil and gas equipment.

An EU contact said the options paper is still “relevant”.

But an earlier options paper - from July last year, also seen by this website - says the sanctions could be widened to new sectors.

It lists: luxury goods (gems, precious metals, fur); food; chemicals; all “intermediate and processed” goods; coal; and restrictions on maritime and road transport.

It mentions, as a last resort, an “import ban on gas … oil”.

Ukraine wish-list

For its part, Ukraine is asking the EU to designate the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) as terrorist entities.

It wants Russia to be stopped from hosting the football World Cup in 2018 and to be excluded from Swift - the Belgium-based system which handles international bank transfers.

Ukraine this week already designated DPR and LPR as terrorists amid plans to seek redress at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

A Ukrainian source said if the EU follows suit “it would have legal consequences for Russia in the international arena, because any support for DPR or LPR would make Russia into a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’.”

An EU diplomat noted that Lithuania and Sweden have in the past backed the idea.

But he said it's unlikely to fly because “it would close off any avenue for dialogue with the separatists in future. Most member states want to keep their possibilities open”.

The World Cup ban sounds fanciful. But last September’s EU options paper indicates it is a possibility.

“Thought could be given to taking co-ordinated action … to recommend suspension of Russian participation in high profile international cultural, economic, or sports events (Formula 1 races, Uefa football competitions, 2018 World Cup etc.)”, it says.

EU states in 2012 imposed a Swift ban on Iran.

The Bloomberg news agency last year reported that the UK proposed doing the same to Russia. But a British diplomat told EUobserver the report isn’t accurate.

Another EU diplomat said: “It’s not realistic at this point. If you exclude the Russians from all financial transactions it would be a last ditch effort. It’s the ‘nuclear’ option”.

“The Swift ban [proposal] is like the Loch Ness monster: It’s a mythical creature. It keeps popping up and then disappearing again”.

Likely sequence

The likely sequence of events is that foreign ministers will agree, by unanimity, to expand the blacklist on Thursday. But EU leaders will formally add the new names at a summit on 12 February.

New economic sanctions are to take longer.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk has indicated that new economic measures would be adopted after leaders hold “strategic” talks on Russia on 19 March.

But two weeks, let alone six weeks, is a long time in the Ukraine crisis.

The new blacklist is the EU’s response to a rocket attack by Russian forces on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which killed 30 civilians.

Diplomats don't exclude that if France and Germany make a diplomatic breakthrough with Russia the new blacklist could be put on hold. They also don’t exclude a sudden escalation by Russia at any point.

The advent of a new, Russia-friendly government in Greece has added more doubt.

Greece caused worry this week by abjuring an EU leaders’ statement which blamed the Mariupol attack on Russia.

It also put a “reserve” on the draft foreign minsters’ conclusions authorising the new listings, with last ditch talks by EU ambassadors at 10am on Thursday to try to resolve the problem before ministers start arriving at 1pm.

Some diplomats believe Greece is using its foreign policy veto as a bargaining chip to get Germany to write-off part of its debt.

If the new Greek leader, Alexis Tsipras, is serious then he might also block the renewal of the existing EU sanctions.

The current sanctions regime is based on more than 40 individual legal acts, including Council decisions, amending decisions, regulations, implementing regulations, and amending regulations.

They begin to expire in March unless they are renewed, also by unanimity.

The draft foreign ministers’ conclusions - under the Greek reserve - say one set of Russia visa bans and asset freezes, adopted on 17 March 2014, is to be extended for six months.

Sanctions at risk

But even if Greece and other Russia-friendly states - Austria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, France, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and Slovenia - are brought to heel the existing sanctions are at risk.

The first legal act to expire is an asset freeze on former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and 17 of his associates imposed on 5 March 2014. It was later extended to cover 22 ex-Yanukovych regime members in total.

All of them have launched legal challenges against the decision at the EU court in Luxembourg.

Ukrainian prosecutors, over the Christmas break, gave the EU Council documents to help prove they are guilty of embezzling state funds.

But sources say the documents fell short in three cases, meaning that, if it's renewed, the Ukraine blacklist will probably shrink from 22 to 19 names.

One of the three is Oleksandr Yakymenko, the 50-year old former head of the Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU.

Whether or not he stole money, he is part of a former security apparatus accused of killing dozens of protesters in Kiev last February and his de-listing would harm EU credibility in Ukraine.

EU ministers to expand Russia blacklist

EU foreign ministers are keen to add names to the Russia blacklist and to launch counter-propaganda measures, according to draft conclusions seen by EUobserver.

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