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25th Feb 2024

EU plans mini-sanctions on Russia for war anniversary

  • Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014 and on a larger scale in 2022 (Photo: Serhii Myhalchuk)
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The EU's biennial Russia-war sanctions are to blacklist a few Kremlin minions, while letting Russian diplomats and oligarchs off the hook.

The blacklist is to contain a "few dozen" Belarusian and Russian military officers waging war on Ukraine as well as Russians involved in abductions of Ukrainian children, several EU diplomats said on Tuesday (6 February).

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The new measures also name a handful of non-EU firms helping Russia to get hold of prohibited arms components.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, whose services drew up the list, told the European Parliament on Tuesday it would be enforced by the "symbolic" date of 24 February — the two-year anniversary of when Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion.

"Mr. Putin — you made a mistake", she said. Existing EU sanctions had already "weakened" Russia, she added.

EU embassies in Brussels will begin talks on von der Leyen's list on Thursday.

It didn't include any major items, such as new EU embargoes on Russian metals, liquid gas, or nuclear firms, because it needed to be agreed quickly after the 12th round of Russia sanctions on 19 December and in time for the 24 February anniversary.

The EU commission drafted it following consultations with member states over the weekend.

The Czech republic had tried to resurrect a proposal it first made in December — to curb freedom of movement for Russian diplomats in Europe's passport-free Schengen zone — EU sources told this website.

That would mean a Russian diplomat accredited in Luxembourg, for instance, could no longer freely visit neighbouring Belgium or the Netherlands.

The EU expelled over 300 Russian diplomats on accusations of espionage in 2022, but many of those still left in Europe are also suspected spies.

However, countries opposed to the Schengen scheme, including Austria, France, and Germany, believed it was impossible to enforce anti-Russian border-controls on the ground, several EU contacts said.

And there was a risk Russia might retaliate by restricting the movement of EU diplomats in Moscow.

For its part, Ukraine has focused its EU-sanctions lobbying on blocking high-tech Western components from getting into the Russian army's hands.

And as the war enters its third year, there's every sign of more aggression and more sanctions to come.

Russian forces have dug in on the contact line in south-east Ukraine in a way that augured a war of attrition, said Ukraine's former EU ambassador Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, while visiting Brussels from Kyiv last week.

"There's a hell-deep minefield, not seen anywhere else around the globe. And two-floor deep trenches made of concrete, well underground, which has been done for the purpose of a lengthy war," he said.

Previous EU sanctions have blacklisted almost 2,000 Russian individuals and entities.

They've also frozen €320bn of Russian assets and banned €135bn in trade.

When asked about the impact of the 13th round, one EU diplomat said: "I don't think anyone laughs at targeted personal sanctions".

But the calendar itself showed the EU wasn't doing enough, according to Agiya Zagrebelska, who heads the sanctions department in Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP).

"The fact a full-scale, unjust war in the heart of Europe is entering its third year is evidence of gaps in the international order," she said from Kyiv on Tuesday.

"Is this [13th] package weak? Let's not look at it separately. Rather, we can say all the previous measures were weak, if today we are 'celebrating' the two-year anniversary of war", she said.

The invasion biennial was a "black date", Zagrebelska said.

And the NACP's "EU priority" list for sanctions, seen by EUobserver, included some of Russia's richest business barons, who've escaped the EU blacklist despite allegedly supplying Russia's military-industrial complex.

"I don't believe in magic," Zagrebelska said, when asked of prospects of a harder EU crackdown in future.

"I don't believe in it because some of those [Russians] who should've been sanctioned in 2014 [when Russia first invaded Ukraine] are still not under sanctions," she said.

Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist

Hungary failed to get three Russian and three Chinese names deleted, as the EU approved its 13th package of sanctions ahead of an anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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