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24th Feb 2024

Russian mercenaries and diamonds in new EU sanctions

  • Moscow fireworks. The EU diamond ban is to enter into force from midnight on 1 January 2024 (Photo: Syuqor7)
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Two ruling-clan individuals, seven mercenary firms, and a ban on all Russian diamonds are to be added to EU blacklists in time for Christmas.

The elite names include Russian president Vladimir Putin's cousin (Anna Putina-Tsivilyova) and Russian ex-president Dmitry Medvedev's son (Ilya Medvedev) — who were dubbed war propagandists in draft new sanctions seen by EUobserver on Thursday (16 November).

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The draft list included just one minor oligarch, Rustem Sulteev, and his wife Lidia.

And it called out Yury Chikhanchin, head of Russia's counter-terrorism agency, Rosfinmonitoring, for having "consistently placed persons and entities considered critical to the Kremlin on its 'terrorism and extremism' register, including journalists and Western-owned social media platforms".

The EU had previously blacklisted Russia's Wagner mercenary group, which went down in flames in August after its boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, challenged Putin's authority.

Its draft new list said seven other mercenary firms were now active in Ukraine in Russia's hybrid structures.

The Moscow-based Redut, for instance, did pre-invasion reconnaissance in Ukraine and was later "linked to assassination attempts against [Ukrainian president] Volodymyr Zelenskyy," the EU said.

It was founded by 54-year-old Russian Anatoli Karazi, who is also to be blacklisted, and who was "a former member of and head of intelligence for the Wagner group".

The St. Andrew's Cross mercenary firm was "created by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2017," the EU noted.

This had "volunteer battalions" and "offered tactical training to Russian combatants participating in Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine".

Convoy, a firm from St. Petersburg, was said to do intelligence gathering in Russian-occupied Crimea in Ukraine.

Fakel and Potok were two "volunteer battalions" made up "mostly of Gazprom [a state energy firm] employees, predominantly working in the security-guard branch," the EU noted.

RSB Group was made of ex-soldiers and ex-spies who trained Russian special forces for operations in Ukraine, the EU said.

And Tsarskie Volki consisted of "military-technical experts who work on the development of weapons and explosive materials" in the Russia-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine, the EU said.

Tsarskie Volki "developed the so-called 'Marker' robotic tank which has served to destroy Ukrainian armoured vehicles", the EU added.

The EU documents also detailed a proposed ban on Russian diamonds, which is being coordinated with Canada, Japan, the UK, and the US.

The EU is to ban "unsorted diamonds", as well as most "non-industrial" and "synthetic ones".

Its list also includes any "articles of jewellery", "articles of natural and cultured pearls", and "goldsmiths' or silversmiths' wares ... incorporating diamonds".

It even stretches to "wristwatches, pocket-watches and other watches, including stopwatches, incorporating diamonds".

"This prohibition applies to diamonds originating in Russia, diamonds exported from Russia, diamonds transiting Russia and Russian diamonds when processed (i.e. cut and/or polished) in third countries," as well as "jewellery incorporating diamonds originating in Russia," an EU sanctions memo said.

The Russia diamond ban is to start from 1 January 2024.

The ban on Russian stones cut in third countries is to be phased in from 1 September next year, taking "into consideration the need to deploy an appropriate traceability mechanism that enables effective enforcement measures," the EU said.

The diamond ban is to come with new restrictions on buying Russian iron, copper, aluminium, and liquified propane in a bid to drain Putin's wallet.

The EU measures are also meant to deal a further blow to Russia's high-tech industries.

Out of the 47 individuals and 72 entities to be added to the list, most were minor Russian officials and defence firms.

But several of the draft-blacklisted defence firms worked in areas such as avionics, satellite navigation, or optoelectronics.

Some seven to-be-blacklisted Russian IT firms worked in the field of "encryption and cryptography technology, information systems, and telecommunication systems for the Russian intelligence services".

Most of the other individuals were low-level Russian military officers and officials involved in holding bogus referendums in Ukraine.

But several Russians were exposed for abusing Ukrainian children.

The EU said Serafim Ivanov, who worked in a paramilitary brigade in Russia-occupied Kherson in Ukraine "took an active part in militarisation of Ukrainian children".

Dmitry Polokovnikov, who worked for a patriot group in Crimea, provided "military training for children", the EU added.

And Russia's Avangard centre in Crimea gave children "a military-patriotic education in order to prepare them for service in Russia's armed forces".

Hungary and Austria

EU diplomats will fine-tune details of the proposal in the run-up to an EU summit in December before the year-end vacation.

EU leaders will also discuss whether to open accession talks with Ukraine, how to speed up delivery of ammunition, and whether to seize Russian funds to pay for Ukraine's reconstruction.

For its part, Russia-friendly Hungary has already spoken out against the Ukraine talks move.

But it might not be the only one wary of inviting such a big new member to join the France-and-Germany-dominated club.

"For sure, Austria will be obstructive, but it will hide behind Hungary," an EU diplomat said.

"Despite its new rhetoric, France doesn't really want Ukraine in the EU and Germany is playing a cynical game," he said.

"They [Germany] want to force changes in the EU treaty in the name of enlargement, such as more qualified-majority voting. The changes will give Berlin more power, but the Germans don't really believe Ukraine will join," he added.

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