EU talks sanctions against Russia, but consensus may prove elusive


BRUSSELS (TAUT) — The European Union appears determined to respond to new Russian attempts to annex parts of Ukraine with more sanctions, but finding consensus among member states is becoming increasingly difficult as measures designed to punish Moscow in their own bite economies.

The bloc of 27 countries has imposed six rounds of sanctions on Russia since President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24. Banks, businesses and markets have been affected — even parts of the sensitive energy sector — and more than 1,200 officials have been targeted with asset freezes and travel bans.

What in the past could have taken years to reach an agreement was achieved in just over three months – relative speed of light for the EU. But European economies already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic are now battling high inflation, with soaring electricity and natural gas prices.

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The trigger for the EU to intervene again was the announcement that the Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine are planning to hold referendums on Russia’s accession. This could allow Moscow to escalate the war, especially after Putin’s decision to call up 300,000 military reservists.

EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell said on Wednesday that “Russia, its political leadership and all those involved in organizing these ‘referenda’ and other violations of international and humanitarian law in Ukraine will be held accountable.”

“Additional restrictive measures against Russia will be tabled as soon as possible in consultation with our partners,” he said in a statement after chairing an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York. .

But political statements from Brussels-based officials are the easy part. It has proved extremely difficult to agree on new measures. Energy interests are particularly difficult to overcome. Hungary has led to opposition to sanctions that could affect Russian supplies, but it is not alone in hesitating.

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The latest round of sanctions was announced on May 4, but was not agreed until four weeks later, amid concerns over oil-divided member states. Instead of a new set of sanctions, a “maintenance and alignment” package was sealed in July, mainly to close loopholes that had already been agreed.

That said, the mayor of Moscow was one of 54 other people whose assets had been frozen, and Sberbank – a major Russian financial institution – was also targeted.

Meanwhile, technical work on a seventh package continues quietly.

Pressured by reporters in New York for details of what might come next, Borrell said the sanctions would target “new areas of the Russian economy, especially — if I may be more specific — the technological ones.”

“I am sure we will be able to reach a unanimous agreement on the new sanction package,” he said.

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Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the EU’s executive – the European Commission – responsible for drafting most sanctions, also seemed determined, but was hardly willing.

“We stand ready to impose further economic costs on Russia and on individuals and entities inside and outside Russia who support (the war), politically or economically. In addition, we will propose additional export controls on civilian technology as Russia transitions to a full war economy,” she told TAUT.

The European Commission should propose the new measures in the coming days, but what is finally agreed will probably be less ambitious. New sanctions may only come after much debate and hand-wringing between the 27 EU member states in the coming weeks; probably only after the referendums have been held.


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