EU agrees fresh Russia sanctions over annexations

  • 2022-10-05

BRUSSELS - The EU has agreed a new round of sanctions against Russia after Moscow's annexation of four regions in Ukraine, the Czech presidency of the bloc said Wednesday.

The latest package -- the eighth since Russia's invasion in February -- is now going through a final approval procedure which, if no objections emerge, will be published and come into effect on Thursday, the Czech Republic's EU ambassador said on Twitter.

"We have just reached a political agreement on new sanctions against Russia -- a strong EU response to Putin's illegal annexation of territories," ambassador Edita Hrda said.

The details of the sanctions package were not given, but EU ambassadors discussing potential measures over the past few days have focused on seeking to impose a price cap on Russian oil transported around the world.

They were also looking at expanding the blacklist of people subject to EU travel bans and asset freezes for their role backing the Kremlin's announced annexations.

Meanwhile, the DPA news agency reports that Russian oil export prices are to be capped as part of the EU's eighth sanctions package, launched in retaliation for the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.

The agreement paves the way to ban EU shipping fleets from transporting Russian oil priced above a certain level to countries outside of the European Union, by use of a price cap designed to hit the Kremlin's oil revenues, as previously endorsed by the G7 group of leading economies.

The aim of the price cap is to make Russia sell its oil to large overseas customers like India for less, reducing the country's profits.

The move expands a previous ban on EU shipping services and insurance for transporting Russian oil and is in addition to the bloc's import embargo on seaborne oil and coal.

Previously, measures targeting Russian energy have proven contested. Sanctions on seaborne oil and coal came with phase-in periods, while piped oil had big exemptions attached for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Hungary backed the sanctions on Wednesday after securing exemptions to secure its energy supply, Zoltan Kovacs, the government spokesperson said on Twitter, quoting Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

Cyprus, Malta and Greece also had reservations about the latest sanctions package due to the size of their respective shipping industries, but secured amendments to back the package, diplomats said.

With a chronic dependence on Russian gas, the EU has so far refrained from targeting that energy resource, a major revenue source for the Kremlin. Sanctions target financial institutions adjacent to the Russian gas industry however.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis described the eighth sanctions package as rather weak, but better than nothing.

"The time for strong packages is over, and when reading the documents presented, one sometimes has the impression that there are more exceptions than sanctions," he told Lithuanian radio on Wednesday.

"Nevertheless, it is better than nothing, than no package at all," he said.

"We are making progress, albeit rather weakly," Landsbergis said.

Lithuania borders the Russian Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad as well as Russian ally, Belarus.

Together with its Baltic partners, Estonia and Latvia, the government in Vilnius has recently repeatedly called for tougher action against Russia.

Other additional punitive measures agreed on prohibit EU nationals from joining Russian state-owned companies, set restrictions on chemical and electronic exports to Russia and create an import ban on Russian products valued at EUR 7 billion (USD 6.8 billion).

In addition, persons involved in the organization of the recent referendums by occupied Ukrainian territories were annexed by Russia, as well as high-ranking officials of the Russian Defense Ministry, are to be subject to EU entry bans and asset freezes.

Seven previous rounds of punitive measures have targeted Russia's economy, financial system, central bank, top government officials, as well as Putin and his inner circle.

More legal steps are needed before the latest set sanctions can enter into force.