Friday

22nd Mar 2019

EU to blacklist five Russians

  • Antonov is to become persona non grata (Photo: state.gov)

EU diplomats have blacklisted five more Russians, despite a new peace initiative by the German and French leaders.

Member states’ ambassadors in Brussels agreed the visa bans and asset freeze on Thursday (5 February) in reaction to Russia’s recent offensive in south-east Ukraine.

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  • Merkel and Hollande due in Moscow on Friday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Sources said they named one of Russia’s deputy defence ministers, two senior defence ministry officials, and two MPs, one of whom is a described as a “senior” figure in the political elite.

The list also includes 14 Ukrainians involved in the Russian campaign and nine entities. One of the entities is based in Russia, while the rest are also in Ukraine. They are said to be non-commercial entities, such as the battalions or self-proclaimed political entities in the conflict.

Hawkish EU countries had proposed more senior people, including: Sergei Shoigu (defence minister); Grigory Karasin (deputy foreign minister); and Sergei Ivanov (the head of the presidential administration).

But doveish member states, led by Greece, haggled them down.

“It wasn’t a big fight. It was more like a carpet bazaar: Some states bid high and others bid low, but everybody knew we’d end up somewhere in the middle”, one EU diplomat told this website.

A second diplomat noted: “What’s important is that we managed to maintain EU unity, not what was discussed in the corridors”.

The new list is to be adopted by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Monday and will enter into life when published in the EU’s legal gazette - the Official Journal - most likely on Tuesday morning.

The sanctions come despite French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel's surprise announcement they will go to Kiev and Moscow on Thursday and Friday to try to broker a ceasefire.

Minsk 2.0

Hollande told press on Thursday: “We will make a new proposal on the conflict settlement, based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

“We now have a war in Ukraine and it can turn into a total one … the aim of [the visits] is not simply to hold talks, but to agree on a text [of an agreement] which will be acceptable to all parties”.

Merkel’s office said in a statement the initiative is designed to create “a peaceful settlement of the conflict”.

The top-level visit raises expectations that Russia is ready to make concessions.

Merkel earlier this month cancelled a Ukraine summit in Kazakhstan on grounds that Russia had given no sign it is ready to budge.

For his part, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told media on Thursday that Russian and European “experts” are in talks on sending UN peacekeepers.

Russian state news agency Interfax cited a “source” saying the Franco-German offer “relies on the Transnistrian settlement scenario. In essence, this is a freezing of the conflict”.

Transniestria is a 25-year old de facto state in Moldova which hosts thousands of Russian troops.

One EU diplomat said the new offer is more likely to be “an amended version of the Minsk protocol” - a 2014 ceasefire deal which envisages a Russian pull-back and limited autonomy for Russian-occupied territories.

“The main thing is to get a ceasefire, then we can build around it later”, the contact noted.

But Paris and Berlin are keeping details of the plan under wraps from most EU allies and from the EU institutions for now.

“The working methods of the EEAS [the EU foreign service] are such that everything which should stay in the room doesn’t always stay in the room. So if the French and Germans have decided to put a final offer on the table, they don’t want it to be published the next morning because that would undermine their diplomacy”, another EU source said.

Diplospeak

The developments come amid a debate among Nato allies whether to give Ukraine modern anti-tank missiles to help stop Russian armour.

France and Germany have said they won’t do it.

US secretary of state John Kerry, who is also in Kiev on Thursday, didn’t mention weapons in his press briefing with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.

But for some analysts, such as Canadian-based scholar Taras Kuzio, his call on Russia to pull back heavy artillery contained a veiled threat.

Kuzio tweeted after the Kerry-Porosehnko briefing that Kerry’s “diplospeak” means: “[Russian leader] Putin should become serious about negotiations or Western arms will begin to flow to Ukraine”.

One of the EU diplomats noted that if Merkel and Hollande clinch a deal in Moscow the new EU blacklist could be put on hold.

"It's hard to speculate what the foreign ministers will decide on Monday. The conflict is evolving not just day by day, but hour by hour".

Greece equivocates on Russia bailout

The new Greek leader has said he isn’t interested in Russian aid “right now”, in a comment seen by some analysts as being deliberately ambiguous.

Analysis

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

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

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Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

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