10th Dec 2022

Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads

  • Russian diamond exports worth €4bn are on the expanded sanctions proposal (Photo: Wikimedia)
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Ireland has joined Poland and the Baltic states in lobbying for more hawkish Russia sanctions, in a sign of widening moral outrage in Europe.

The Irish added their "IE" stamp to a 9-page long list of proposals, including bank and diamond industry bans, circulated in Brussels and seen by EUobserver on Friday (23 September).

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  • No more smartphone sales to Russia, the group added (Photo: Wikimedia)

The Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, also condemned Russia's actions in strident terms at the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday.

"Russia [is] behaving as a rogue state," he said, referring to its plan to annex parts of eastern Ukraine.

Ireland is neutral in military terms, located at the opposite end of Europe from the war, and has a liberal government.

Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are Nato hawks with Russian borders who fear Russian aggression and who have more conservative ruling parties.

The Irish foreign ministry declined to comment on the novel EU grouping.

One EU diplomat described it as a "big deal", which showed how the conflict was reshaping European politics. A second EU diplomat speculated that the US, which has close ties with Ireland, might have urged Dublin to side with Warsaw against more dovish EU capitals.

"We hope even more will join the group," a Polish diplomat said.

But a fourth EU diplomat said it wasn't so surprising, given Ireland's record of "maximalist" positions on human-rights issues.

The Irish-backed proposals say Russian lenders Gazprombank, Alfa Bank, Rosbank, and Tinkoff Bank should be cut off from the 'Swift' international payments grid.

A Gazprombank ban would have far-reaching consequences because it handles payments for Russian gas exports.

"It shall be prohibited to purchase, import, or transfer, directly or indirectly, diamonds ... if they originate in Russia and if they have been exported from Russia into the [European] Union or to any third country," the group also proposed to add to the EU's sanctions regime. Russian diamond exports are worth €4bn a year.

They called for a "ban on cooperating with Russia on nuclear energy", on the transfer of EU or US cash banknotes to Russia, and on sales of real estate to Russians.

In the services sector, the EU should impose a "ban on using Kaspersky Lab [a Russian cybersecurity giant] technology" inside Europe and stop EU firms from doing IT work for Russian clients, the group said.

On the counter-propaganda front, they proposed taking three Russian TV broadcasters (NTV Mir, REN TV, and Rossija 1), as well as six online ones (NewsFront, SouthFront, Katehon, Strategic Culture Foundation, Fondsk, and InfoRos), off the airwaves.

They also wanted an explicit ban on Russian funding for EU-registered lobbying firms, NGOs, and think-thanks.

They said people who help Russia to circumvent sanctions should themselves be put on EU visa-ban and asset-freeze blacklists.

And they listed dozens of high-tech products that should no longer be exported to the EU's war-mongering neighbour, including smartphones, radar equipment, and laser appliances.

Art of the possible

The proposals come as Russia-occupied regions in eastern Ukraine begin fake referendums on independence, leading to Russian annexation as early as next week.

All 27 EU countries are to hold talks with the EU Commission over the weekend on the feasibility of sanctions ideas.

"The Commission has carried out consultations with national capitals, so it's in the best position to know what would be acceptable to everyone," another EU diplomat said.

The minimum the EU will do is blacklist officials involved in the bogus referendums, list a few minor Russian banks, and ban some high-tech products, diplomats predicted.

They will also try to stop firms shipping Russian oil sold at inflated prices, for instance by invalidating insurance coverage for tankers involved in the trade.

The eighth round of sanctions comes after the EU already listed 1,206 Russians and struck out at most sectors of the Russian economy, leaving few big targets left.

It remains to be seen if Poland and the Baltic States make headway with Irish support.

Russia-friendly Hungary has in the past vetoed blacklistings and is up to its neck in nuclear cooperation with Russian firm Rosatom, which is building two reactors at Hungary's Paks atomic plant.

France, Germany, and Italy, as well as smaller countries, such as Austria, Cyprus, and Greece, are also more dovish than Poland and the Baltic states.

And some EU sources saw the Irish-Polish-Baltic paper as more of a roadmap for action further down the line, than as a list of demands to be implemented in reaction to the annexations.

"It's more of a reflection paper, showing the direction of travel," an EU contact said.

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