EU to extend sanctions on Putin 'cronies'
EU states have decided to extend the duration of blacklists of Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for the Ukraine conflict or for plundering Ukraine’s treasury.
Ambassadors agreed in a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (2 March) that visa bans and asset freezes on 149 people and 37 entities deemed responsible for violating Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” would stay in force for six more months.
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Asset freezes on 16 people accused of “misappropriation” of Ukrainian state funds would stay in place for another year.
The lists would be tweaked to take note of minor developments, the envoys said.
Three people on the “territorial integrity” list have died since the last time the EU updated the file, including a Russian spy chief Igor Sergun.
EU sources say former Ukrainian health minister Raisa Bohatyriova has returned stolen money, so will be removed from the “misappropriation” register.
But Wednesday’s decision means all the big names are still on Europe's blacklist.
The roll-call includes Russian deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, senior Kremlin aides Sergey Glazyev and Vladislav Surkov, and Kremlin security chiefs Mikhail Fradkov, Aleksandr Bortnikov, Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Beseda.
Also on the list are senior Russian MPs such as Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin and firebrand nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as well as a TV anchorman Dmitry Kiselyov who was listed for propaganda activities.
Personal friends and what EU officials call the oligarch “cronies” of Russian leader Vladimir Putin also remain subject to sanctions. They include Arkady Rotenberg, Konstantin Malofeev, Yuriy Kovalchuk and Nikolay Shamalov.
On the Ukrainian side, former president Viktor Yanukovych and former PM Mykola Azarov are both subject to sanctions.
EU Council lawyers are currently drafting the legal paperwork for the extensions. The formal decision is to be taken without further discussion by EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels on 10 March.
The EU already decided in January to extend the duration of the more painful economic sanctions on Russia until late July.
An EU contact said just one out of the 28 EU states voiced doubts on the extension in Wednesday’s talks. But the source declined to name the state.
“The sanctions were extended because nothing has changed in the situation on the ground,” the source said. “What we saw in the [ambassadors’] meeting was quite a remarkable show of unity.”
Several of the big names - including Rotenberg, Yanukovych, and Azarov - are pursuing legal cases against the EU in the courts in Luxembourg.
Five of them, including Azarov, won a legal challenge in January against their 2014 listing on grounds of lack of evidence. But they are still designated because each subsequent EU decision, such as a 2015 update of the list, is regarded as a separate legal act.
“The court cases were taken into account in the talks. But they didn’t change anything,” the EU source said.
Russia has admitted to using special forces in Crimea and in east Ukraine. But it has also denied any large-scale military intervention, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary.
When France and Germany, on behalf of the EU, negotiated the so-called Minsk and Minsk 2 ceasefire accords they bowed to Russia’s claims by making reference to “foreign” instead of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.
But the re-listing of people like Surkov and Bortnikov indicates that no one really believes Putin’s claims.
The re-listing of Yanukovych and Azarov also indicates that recent corruption scandals in Kiev have not undermined EU resolve.
Wednesday’s decision does come at a time when some in the EU are calling for a detente with Russia despite ongoing Ukraine hostilities, however.
When Hungarian PM Viktor Orban met Putin in Moscow on 17 February he said: “This year, by the middle of the year, there will be no easy way to prolong sanctions. More and more countries share this opinion.”
An EU source noted that Putin had also invited European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to a business forum in St Petersburg in June.
“It’s not yet decided if he will go,” the source said.