EU to uphold ban on Putin's 'cronies'
EU states are expected, next week, to extend for six months their blacklist of Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for the war in Ukraine.
The decision is to be taken at a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday (7 September) and ratified by EU capitals in writing a few days afterward.
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The list, which imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on 149 people and an asset freeze on 37 entities, is to expire on 15 September unless it is rolled over.
It is part of wider measures that also include economic sanctions and a ban on doing business with Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine two years ago.
The economic sanctions, which are the most painful, expire in January.
The Crimea sanctions were already extended earlier this year until June 2017.
A growing number of EU states, including the EU presidency, Slovakia, say the bloc should mend fences with Russia.
EU foreign ministers will, at an informal meeting in Bratislava on Friday, discuss the partial ceasefire in Ukraine and “the way forward” on the crisis.
Diplomatic sources said that if anybody objected to the blacklist rollover, they might mention it at the event.
But they said this was unlikely, because EU leaders plan to discuss Russia relations at a summit in October and any change to the sanctions regime is likely to be made at a later stage.
“The blacklist was put in place due to attacks on Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The conditions on the ground haven’t changed, so I don’t think there’s any suspense [on the rollover]”, one EU source said.
A second EU source said Russia’s surge of troops into Crimea in early August “should make the rollover even easier”.
Russia did it after saying that Ukraine had conducted special operations inside the annexed territory, but the EU Council chief, Donald Tusk, for one, later said that the “Russian version of events [was] unreliable”.
A third source, from a large EU state, told EUobserver: “I don’t see any reason not to extend the [visa ban] list. It has already been done several times”.
The EU blacklist names Russian security chiefs, Kremlin aides, and senior politicians, such as deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who championed the invasion of Ukraine.
It also names a handful of oligarchs whom EU diplomats refer to as Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s “cronies”, such as Arkady Rotenberg, with whom he likes to spar in judo.
For its part, the US treasury on Thursday (1 September) designated a further 37 Russian and Ukrainian entities in what it said is part of “ongoing efforts to counter attempts to circumvent sanctions on Russia”.
Its decision casts a spotlight on European sanctions compliance.
But according to a new report by the OCCRP, a club of investigative journalists from eastern Europe, EU states’ commercial shipping is flouting the Crimea business ban.
“Over the past two years, 24 vessels bearing EU countries’ flags, 43 vessels registered in the EU, and 22 vessels owned by EU beneficiaries have entered Crimea”, the report said.
Its study named Germany, Greece, and Romania among the culprits.
The German embassy in Ukraine reacted with alarm to the findings, but “the reaction of other European embassies to the violations was muted, or, in some cases, non-existent”, the OCCRP said.