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1st Oct 2022

'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians

  • Gazprombank: too big to touch? (Photo: qwertyuiop)
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EU diplomats are having to be ever-more creative in finding Russians to blacklist, after already designating 1,206 names.

Work on new sanctions accelerated this week, amid fears that Russia is going to annex parts of eastern Ukraine.

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Bogus independence referendums are due to start in Russia-occupied regions this weekend lasting four days. And Russia annexed Crimea just 48 hours after its fake referendum in 2014.

The sense of urgency has already prompted EU talk of activating an emergency protocol, called the Integrated Political Crisis Response, in which top diplomats exchange intelligence.

And the new EU sanctions will need to be ready to snap into place shortly after Russian president Vladimir Putin makes his move.

The new visa-ban and asset-freeze blacklists are likely to include minor Russian officials and Ukrainian quislings involved in the referendum circus, as well as small-time Russian MPs, diplomatic sources said.

EU states are looking for ways to stop companies shipping Russian oil sold at a higher price than normal market value.

They are also eyeing more Russian banks, imports of high-tech goods, and economic sectors to strike.

But when it comes to individuals, "there are no big fish left," one EU source said. "We've already got the full collection of oligarchs and everybody in the political and defence establishments," they said.

Meanwhile, the only major Russian bank still not under sanctions is Gazprombank, but the EU needs it to stay open because it handles payments for Russian gas imports.

One of the few sectors still untouched by seven previous rounds of Russian sanctions is the Russian diamond industry, but this has more of a symbolic than genuine importance to the Russian economy.

"We can sanction Russian unicorns if we want to, but the problem is they don't exist," another EU source said, referring to the paucity of real targets left.

On the blacklist side, that means EU diplomats are also looking into more bans on Russian propagandists, such as pro-war cheerleaders in Russian media.

The more creative approach has its problems, one of the EU sources said, however. "Let's get one thing straight: These are not real journalists," the source said. "But all the same, the EU doesn't like to blacklist media people. We support freedom of speech and expression," they said.

For their part, Poland and the Baltic states have pressed to also fully confiscate frozen billions worth of frozen Russian financial assets in Europe, but this was unlikely to fly due to German opposition, according to EU diplomats speaking to the Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, told his party members at a political event on Wednesday that the EU should scrap Russia sanctions altogether, according to Hungarian pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet.

Energy prices would fall by 50 percent overnight, he said. "The Brussels sanctions have pushed Europe into an energy crisis," Orbán also posted on his Facebook page.

But few in Brussels expect him to veto the EU response to Putin's carving up of Ukraine due to the gravity of the escalation.

In a sign of the prevailing mood, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell used tougher rhetoric than ever in condemning Russia's plans in a formal statement after meeting the 27 EU foreign ministers in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

Russia was responsible for "immense suffering" in Ukraine, Borrell said on behalf of the EU.

Ukraine had a "right to liberate" its territories," his statement added. "We salute the courage and successes of the Ukrainian Armed Forces during the current counter-offensive".

"Now it is clear that Russia wants to destroy Ukraine by all means," Borrell also personally told press in New York.

"Although Putin tried to scare us all with his latest address, he missed the target completely," Ukraine's former ambassador to the EU, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, told EUobserver, referring to a speech by Putin on Wednesday, in which the Russian leader spoke of the annexations and made nuclear threats.

"The Kremlin is toxic as never before," Yelisieiev said.

Finnish border guards will allow fleeing Russians to enter

Finland says there has not yet been a dramatic increase in Russian nationals trying to enter Finland from Russia, noting just over 4,800 Russian nationals crossed the land border on the day of Vladimir Putin's announcement of the draft.

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