8th Dec 2023

EU preparing new sanctions on Russia and Iran

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (Photo:
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The EU is preparing a ninth round of sanctions on Russia as well as weighing related measures against Moscow's ally, Iran, following drone strikes on civilian targets in Ukraine.

"We have, just a few days ago, approved a new set of sanctions [on Russia], but it's an ongoing process and we're continuing work [on the next round]," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Monday (17 October).

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Diplomats were also gathering evidence on whether Iran supplied the kamikaze drones used in Russia's latest attacks, despite Iran's denials, with a view to new sanctions against Tehran in future, he added.

Borrell spoke after meeting EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, who listened to Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking by video-link from Kyiv.

"This was the first time we communicated with a minister from a bomb shelter while Russia was continuing its strikes on Kyiv," he said.

Kuleba "denounced the use of these kinds of arms [drones]" and Ukrainian intelligence services were "absolutely convinced" of Iran's involvement, Borrell noted.

But the Iranian foreign minister had "personally" vowed in phone calls with Borrell that his country did not supply the weapons.

"We are gathering evidence and we will be ready to react with the tools at our disposal [sanctions]," if Kuleba is proved right, Borrell promised.

The eighth round of Russia sanctions had targeted its oil, steel, and forestry industries and backlisted Russian propagandists.

But Russia's diamond and liquid gas exports, for instance, remained untouched, in potential future options.

Borrell's office was also looking to blacklist non-Russian individuals who were helping the Kremlin to circumvent EU measures, sources said.

The EU ministers, on Tuesday, agreed to buy another €500m worth of weapons for Ukraine from a joint fund and to train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers on EU territory in the next two years.

Hungary, the most Russia-friendly EU country, said it wouldn't take part in the military-training mission in what Borrell called "constructive abstention". Budapest has also ramped up criticism of EU sanctions in recent days.

But Borrell said he did not expect it to veto any upcoming moves.

"Hungary has never impeded or prevented our [sanctions] decisions from going forward," he said.

"Sanctions are having an impact over time. They are starting to bite," he added, citing an internal EU Commission report on Russia's flagging economy.

"[Russian president Vladimir] Putin is losing, losing militarily and morally," Borrell said.

Headscarf protests

The EU, the same day, blacklisted 11 Iranian individuals, including Issa Zarepour, the Iranian minister of information, and four Iranian entities involved in the crackdown on protesters following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been beaten for not wearing an Islamic head covering.

The EU did so despite trying to get Iran on board with a new nuclear non-proliferation deal at the same time and amid calls for tougher measures by Iranian demonstrators outside the EU Council building in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

But Borrell told press: "I assure you the government of Iran won't like this [the Amini-linked blacklist] because of the political message it sends".

Its Ukraine military-training mission aside, Borrell announced the EU was sending 40 experts to the Armenian side of the border with Azerbaijan to help monitor the fragile ceasefire between the two former Soviet states.

An initial team was "already in place" and the rest would be deployed in the next "few weeks", he said.

The move represents a new twist in Armenia's relations with Europe, after Putin blocked Yerevan's plans to sign a Ukraine-style association agreement with the EU seven years ago in order to maintain influence in what Russia calls its near-abroad.

The EU foreign ministers also discussed reducing technological and economic dependence on China in future, Borrell noted, in order to avoid the kind of "vulnerabilities" that Europe had gotten into on Russian energy exports, Borrell noted.

China was becoming more of a "competitor" than a "partner", Borrell said.

"We analysed president Xi's [Jinping] speech [at the Chinese Communist Party's conference last weekend], which was a very strong statement about their desire to have more influence around the world," Borrell said.

Garden and jungle

Borrell, in his own speech last week at the new European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges, Belgium, issued a strong statement in which he called Europe a "garden" of democracy and prosperity, while saying the rest of the world was a "jungle".

His words caused widespread outrage, with the UAE, for instance, on Monday, summing the EU's acting ambassador to the Emirates to complain about his "inappropriate and discriminatory" language.

But Borrell, in his Luxembourg press conference, denied that his remarks were racist or colonialist. They were instead designed to make Europeans "proud" of what they had achieved at home since WW2, he said.

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