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9th Dec 2023

Sweden opens EU debate on Ukraine sanctions

  • Bildt in Brussels on Monday: 'EU must start looking at effective instruments against corrupt actors ... [in] Ukraine' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has broken the EU’s silence on potential sanctions on Ukraine.

Going into an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday (20 January), he told press: “I wouldn’t exclude it … We’ll have to see what happens.”

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Half-way through the talks, he tweeted: “EU must start looking at effective instruments against corrupt actors manoeuvering also in the dark corners of the politics of Ukraine.”

He told press after the meeting: “I think we should look towards various instruments targeted against corrupt money [in Ukraine].”

Swedish diplomats declined to give more details.

But an EU source noted “there was some discussion on sanctions, some countries raised the subject” at the ministers’ lunchtime debate - the first time the issue has come up in EU talks since Ukraine began its crackdown on protesters.

EU ministers on Monday also urged Ukraine to “reverse” new laws which criminalise the opposition movement.

But they added the Union is still happy to sign a political association and free trade treaty with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych if he wants to.

For his part, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, voiced pessimism on the EU offer.

“We have to protect ourselves from the illusion that this will change the situation in the short term,” he said.

But he indicated the EU is unlikely to alter its policy until after Ukraine elections in early 2015: “For now, Ukraine has decided. We’ll have to see if after the presidential elections there can be a change.”

Meanwhile, Bildt’s remarks do not come out of the blue.

The US has already put Ukrainian interior minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko and up to 20 other officials on a draft sanctions list.

Ukrainian protesters on Monday picketed the EU embassy in Kiev to call for action.

The main opposition party, Batkivshchyna, is also circulating detailed allegations on “corrupt actors” in Yanukovych’s inner circle who use Austrian and British firms to launder money.

A senior government source from another EU state told EUobserver that individual EU countries could impose unilateral measures pending an EU-level accord.

“You can have national blacklists based on purely national decisions,” the contact said.

They added: “It would be difficult to target oligarchs because, even in the national systems, you need to say why such and such a person is on the list and this could not be a purely political argument. I think, first of all, you would target officials responsible for the use of force.”

The question of who to target is a hot topic in Ukraine.

Volodomyr Yermolenko, a researcher at the Internews-Ukraine think tank in Kiev, told this website on Monday the EU should first target people who backed last week’s anti-protest laws.

He named Zakharchenko and five “hawk” MPs from Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions - Yefremov, Kolesnichenko, Tsariov, Oliynyk, and Chechetov.

He noted that the EU could go after pro-Yanukovych oligarchs, such as Rinat Akhmetov, who has assets in the UK, in a second wave of measures.

“An indicative list of other people … should be handed to the Party of the Regions with a clear message: ‘If today's actions continue, the list of people under sanctions will significantly enlarge’,” Yermolenko said.

“These people understand only the language of force,” he added.

Amid the EU foreign ministers' focus on Africa and the Middle East on Monday, a Polish centre-right MEP, Krzysztof Lisek, noted: "It's a bit disappointing that the ministers paid so little attention, relatively speaking, to matters in Europe.”

He added: “If we cannot make a positive contribution to a crisis in our immediate neighbourhood, then the EU's credibility as a foreign policy actor is in doubt."

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