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EU seeks trade sanctions on Russia over ‘sham’ Ukraine votes

Simon Coveney said the results don’t ‘truly reflect what people in those parts of Ukraine actually want’.

Voting began Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia.
Voting began Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia.
Image: AP/PA Images

EUROPEAN UNION COUNTRIES should impose “biting sanctions” on Russian trade and hit officials responsible for “sham referendums” held in parts of Ukraine, senior EU officials have said.

According to Russia-installed election officials, 93% of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.

Russian-installed officials in those occupied regions said on Wednesday they would ask President Vladimir Putin to incorporate them into Russia.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on joining Russia “are an illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force”.

“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said.

“We propose sweeping new import bans on Russian products. This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of an additional €7 billion in revenue,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.

She said the EU’s executive branch also advises extending the bloc’s own export ban “to deprive the Kremlin’s military complex of key technologies”, including electronic components and specific chemical substances.

The proposals must still be endorsed by the 27 EU member countries.

The commission president also said the EU should “lay the legal basis” for a price cap on Russian oil, without elaborating.

The bloc already agreed to ban sea-borne crude oil starting on December 5, but some member countries still require Russian supplies at low prices.

Finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrial powers pledged this month to impose a cap on the price of Russian oil in a bid to limit the Kremlin’s revenues, while also curtailing the war’s impact on energy prices and inflation.

The ministers said they would impose the cap by barring insurance or shipping companies from helping Russia sell oil at prices above the set limit.

On top of that, von der Leyen recommended a ban on EU nationals sitting on the governing bodies of Russian companies, saying that “Russia should not benefit from European knowledge and expertise”.

People who help Russia to circumvent sanctions could also face sanctions themselves, under the proposal outlined on Wednesday.

belgium-europe-pipelines European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell address a media conference on Wednesday. Source: AP/PA Images

‘Sham’

Referendums which reportedly endorse Russian rule in parts of Ukraine have been labelled a “sham”, Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney.

Coveney said Ireland would not recognise the results of the votes which he described as an attempt by Russia to gain control of parts of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.

Speaking during a visit to the Northern, Coveney said: “We think the process has been a sham.

“We think it has been a rushed effort by Russia to try to gain control of parts of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.

“We will not recognise the results of referendums that we don’t believe truly reflect what people in those parts of Ukraine actually want.”

He added: “It is an attempt by Russia to annex part of their neighbour’s territory so that they could say if Ukraine made progress militarily into regaining parts of their own territory from Russian forces that that is encroaching on Russian territory.

“Therefore that gives them a licence to do other more horrific things than they have already done.

“We will not recognise this process as in any way legitimate or legally sound.

“We will continue to support Ukraine in their efforts to free their land and their own people from Russian aggression.”

‘Sanctions matter’

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said asset freezes and bans on travel in Europe would be imposed on the “proxy Russian authorities” in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Borrell said he also wants to target senior Russian Defence Ministry officials and those who support the armed forces by providing them with equipment and weapons, or who help to recruit the 300,000 reservists that Putin has called up.

“Sanctions work. Sanctions matter. But they have to be maintained over time and … not circumvented,” he said.

The European Commission has drawn up several rafts of sanctions against Russia since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine seven months ago.

Banks, companies and markets have been hit – even parts of the sensitive energy sector – with asset freezes and travel bans slapped on more than 1,200 officials.

But the hard work is yet to come.

The economies of the EU’s 27 member countries have been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic and are now struggling against high inflation, with skyrocketing electricity and natural gas prices.

Sanctions are getting harder to agree as they also inflict damage at home.

The last round of sanctions was announced on May 4 and took four weeks to gain bloc-wide approval as concerns over oil restrictions divided member countries.

In July, rather than impose fresh measures, the EU adopted a “maintenance and alignment” package that mostly closed loopholes on sanctions already agreed upon.

The actions ultimately agreed on this time are likely to be less ambitious than the commission’s recommendations and imposed only after much debate and hand-wringing among the 27 countries in coming weeks.

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