Ninth package of sanctions on Russia bogged down in debate

Ninth package of sanctions on Russia bogged down in debate
Eu foreign ministers are struggling to find a consensus on measures to include in the ninth package of sanctions as imposing the regime becomes increasingly more difficult. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews December 13, 2022

Debate about what should go into the EU’s ninth package of sanctions is bogged down in disagreement. EU foreign ministers met on December 12 to come up with more measures to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine, but could not agree on how best to do this. Some want extreme measures like a very low price cap price on oil of $30 to be imposed, while others worry more about the boomerang effects on Europe’s economy or sparking WWIII.

The draft version on the table, seen by EUObserver, has been described as “modest” and contains little that would cause Russia material problems, according to reports. Even that version is proving difficult to muster the unanimous vote any sanctions must have.

The Council of Foreign Ministers of the EU countries failed to agree on the draft, “because of the volume and complexity” of the measures, the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell said during the morning session.

"We have on the agenda sanctions against Russia – the ninth package. We are still not there. We have not yet finished," Borrell said.

"I thought, this morning we were able to say “greenlighted”, but that is still not the case. Maybe by the end of the day," he said.

Currently the draft ninth package includes restrictions on four Russian TV channels, 144 individuals, media personalities, as well as a ban on the sale of dual-use technologies to a number of Russian companies and new sanctions on at least two banks.

In addition, the proposals include "further economic measures against the Russian energy and mining sector, including a ban on new mining investments in Russia," the Council of Foreign Ministers said in a statement.

The G7, which is meeting concurrently, did agree on a new €2.1bn package of defence weapons for Ukraine with a focus on air defence, as Russian missiles, artillery and drones hammer targets in Ukraine with no end to the war in sight.

The Group of Seven promised to "meet Ukraine's urgent requirements" after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed for modern tanks, artillery and long-range weapons to counter Russia's devastating invasion.

Zelenskiy also urged G7 leaders gathered at a virtual meeting to support his idea of convening a special Global Peace Summit dedicated to bringing peace to his country.

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said on Monday he would be "open minded" about supplying Ukraine with longer-range missiles to target launch sites for Russian drones that have hit infrastructure if Russia carried on targeting civilian areas.

The debate comes after last week Hungary withdrew its support for a €18bn macroeconomic stabilisation package agreed by the EU in what some politicians called a “blackmail veto.” Hungary, which relies on Russia for cheap energy, has called for moderation in the sanctions regime and has opted out from participating in many of them.

The money was approved eventually, but only by using the dodge of all willing participants pledging the money at the level of their national budgets, over which they all have complete control, and not at the level of the EU budget, which needs a unanimous vote by all members.

On the other side of the fence, a dozen EU members sent a letter to the Commission calling for the oil price cap to be imposed on Russia to be reduced from the compromise level of $60 agreed last week to the crushing level of $30 that would inflict significant harm on Russia’s budget if it could be enforced. “So far, there are a number of issues that need to be agreed upon,” Borrell said, expressing the hope that an agreement would be reached this week.

The only thing that the EU countries did manage to agree on was new sanctions against four Iranians and four Iranian companies, which, according to the EU Council, provide military assistance to Russia by supplying drones. Both Tehran and Moscow deny the supply of drones despite overwhelming evidence of their use. Ukraine claims that Russia has been using Iranian UAVs since mid-September.

The main feature of the package seen by EUObserve is a list of 144 Russians, including TV presenters Boris Korchevnikov and Marina Kim, singer Grigory Leps, blogger Dmitry Puchkov (Goblin) and director Nikita Mikhalkov. Four members of Yuri Kovalchuk's family may also be on the list, including his wife Tatyana Kovalchuk (Russia's eighth richest women last year), as well as two daughters and a cousin of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. The rest are petty officials, deputies, senators, governors, lower-ranking military, The Bell reports.

The Hungarian foreign minister said that Budapest was trying to persuade the EU not to impose sanctions on some Russian officials, citing the risk of cutting communication channels with Moscow.

The Russian TV channels to be proscribed include: the state-owned media organ VGTRK, Kovalchuk's National Media Group, ANO TV-Novosti, the Strategic Culture Foundation, which is associated with the Russian foreign intelligence service SVR in the EU, as well as the NTV and NTV channels Mir, Rossiya-1 and REN TV. All will have their broadcasting licences in the EU revoked, The Bell reports.

Politico reports that sanctions will include a ban on the sale of dual-use technologies (certain chemicals, nerve agents, electronics, the head of the European Commission explained earlier) to 169 Russian companies, as well as a ban on the export of engines for drones to Russia and to “any third countries, such as Iran, that can supply drones to Russia.” Amongst the sanctions on banks, the new measures involve freezing the assets of the Moscow Credit Bank and the Far East Bank, according to EUObserver. Sanctions may also be imposed against the Russian Regional Development Bank. In total, 47 organisations will fall under the sanctions, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry said.

Amongst those things exempted are Russian companies working with nuclear energy, Budapest said. In addition, according to the Financial Times, citing sources, Germany, France and the Netherlands asked Brussels to change the sanctions regime in order to clearly designate exceptions for the supply of Russian grain and fertilisers.

In addition to agreeing on new sanctions, the EU continues to work on tightening control over those already introduced: according to the FT, the EU wants to create the position of a “sanctions representative” who will monitor their implementation. David O'Sullivan, the former EU ambassador to the United States, has been offered the post, the newspaper writes. His appointment could be announced on Tuesday, December 13, The Bell reports.