EU extends Russia blacklist by six months
EU ambassadors on Wednesday (7 September) decided to extend the life of a blacklist that designates top Russian officials on grounds of “actions against Ukraine's territorial integrity”.
The list, which expires on 15 September, is to stay in place until 15 March next year, with EU capitals to ratify the decision by written procedure in the next few days.
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“It is expected that no change will be made to the list of persons and entities under restrictive measures”, an EU Council official said.
The list imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on 146 Russians and Ukrainians and an asset freeze on 37 entities.
Named individuals include Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s oligarch friends, top Kremlin aides, senior politicians, and Russian security chiefs.
The EU official said it was extended without any debate by all 28 ambassadors.
The move comes ahead of talks on future Russia relations by EU leaders at a summit in October.
The EU has also imposed biting economic sanctions on Russian banks, energy firms, and arms makers. These are due to expire in January unless renewed.
One EU diplomat said the UK’s decision to leave the EU has weakened the internal bloc of Russia hawks that is set to push for a renewal.
“The UK already has one foot out of the door. That leaves Poland, the Baltic states, Sweden and, to an extent, Denmark, without a major ally on Russia”, the contact said.
“The other Visegrad countries [the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia] are pursuing better relations with Russia, while in Germany, the SPD is trying to differentiate itself from Merkel in the run-up to elections, and that is likely to mean a more pro-Russian line”, he added.
The Russia-friendly, centre-left SPD party is a member of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.
Merkel has taken a firm line that Russia must fully comply with the Minsk ceasefire accord in Ukraine before the EU reciprocates, but French and Italian leaders have criticised the EU sanctions regime.
The accord says that "foreign" troops must leave Ukraine and Russia must hand back control of the border to Kiev.
The EU diplomat said October’s talks could see EU leaders “decouple” sanctions from Minsk compliance, opening the door to sanctions relief down the line.
Fighting in east Ukraine has intensified over the summer, with international monitors, the OSCE, reporting 62 explosions in the Donetsk region on Wednesday and 42 in the Luhansk region.
Russia denies that its soldiers are active in Ukraine.
But a new investigation by Bellingcat, a British NGO, which counted the number of medals awarded to Russian soldiers during the past two years of the Ukraine conflict, indicated that “more than 10,000” Russian servicemen took part in combat operations in east Ukraine.