The EU Includes Putin And Lavrov On The Sanctions List And Freezes Their Assets
The foreign ministers have to ratify the decision, which would not prevent them from entering community territory, so as not to put even more obstacles to diplomatic negotiations.
The foreign ministers of the European Union are going to formalize today, Friday, the second package of sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. And among the measures, one that had not been agreed upon last night, after the summit of the heads of state and government: freezing the assets of Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.
Community and diplomatic sources have advanced this noon and the Austrian minister, Alexander Schallenberg, and the high representative Josep Borrell, have confirmed it upon their arrival at the meeting, explaining that the idea is to freeze the possible accounts that both have in community entities, but not prevent their entry into community territory, as has been applied to hundreds of citizens of the country since 2015 for their participation or responsibility in the annexation of Ukrainian territories.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas had said in the early morning that the leaders had shown unity on the idea, but there were some reservations about the most appropriate time to apply it. “The decision is going to be made by the Foreign Affairs Council in a few minutes,” she said in Spanish when she arrived. “It is a legal act that will take place after a long discussion. The leaders talked about it, there was no clear consensus and they asked me to find a solution. We have worked hard tonight and I hope we can reach an agreement, and if there are no surprises, and nobody opposes, if there is unanimity we will certainly approve it. Personally I am very much in favor, but what matters is not what I think, but the Council. If nobody opposes, Putin and Lavrov will be on the list“.
The measure is symbolic, since Putin’s fortune is not in EU banks, but it is highly symbolic. Until now, the 27 had not wanted to target the two main faces, but rather the Minister of Defense, the president’s chief of staff, different oligarchs or the head of the Wagner group of mercenaries. The idea was to reserve ammunition as the events worsened, but the invasion, which has brought the fighting to Kiev, has been considered sufficient to take the step.
Not impeding Putin and Lavrov’s access to the EU has a very clear purpose, as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte explained on Thursday: not to make diplomatic negotiations even more difficult. “It is difficult to speak when your interlocutor cannot meet with you,” community sources explained last night. In this way you want to send two messages. On the one hand, that no one is beyond the reach of the measures, even if they are not going to have much effect. It did not make much sense that 351 deputies were punished for voting in favor of the recognition of Lugansk and Donetsk but not their two main responsible parties. And, on the other, that the door is not closed to seek the end of military operations through diplomatic channels.
The leaders of the 27 discussed the second package, but also the third, on Thursday in the community capital, according to Charles Michel, president of the European Council. The ideas were clear in general, but some countries, the most lukewarm, continue to bet on gradualism. And taking them out little by little, not all at once. Hence, Russian imports are targeted, preventing the arrival of key components both for refining oil and for the aeronautical sector. But not in exports, as the EU’s dependence on Russian coal, gas and oil is gigantic. Or also the doubts about leaving Russian banks out of Swift, the mechanism (based in Belgium) made up of 11,000 financial institutions around the globe and used to quickly communicate operations and transactions.
Kicking Russia out of the Swift has become something of a fetish, something that has been called for by prime ministers and analysts, but not convincing in Germany. Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz was the most reluctant at the leaders’ summit, returning home without speaking to the media knowing that the issue was already the news, or the scandal, of the day in his country. “Cutting off their access would mean that ordinary people would not be able to send money to their relatives in Russia,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock justified. Berlin believes that the measure would also have consequences for Europeans and that there are no prepared contingency plans, so it is a bad idea at the moment.
Not being in Swift would undoubtedly make communications more difficult and slow, and would force alternatives to be sought. A few years ago the system shut out Iranian banks as part of sanctions over its nuclear program. But many experts say that freezing assets or prohibiting certain ‘clearing’ operations to Russian entities, as the US has done, is much more devastating for the financial system.
For its part, the Council of Europe today “suspended” the participation of Russian diplomats and delegates in the main bodies of the pan-European organization.