EU sanctions delayed amid Ukraine ceasefire hope

EUROPEAN Union governments delayed signing off on a fresh package of sanctions against Russia over its involvement in Ukraine yesterday because some member governments want to discuss how to suspend the sanctions if a Ukraine ceasefire holds, diplomats said.

Ukrainian servicemen talk to residents in Avdeevka, near Donetsk. Picture: Getty
Ukrainian servicemen talk to residents in Avdeevka, near Donetsk. Picture: Getty

EU envoys were due to meet last night in Brussels to decide whether the sanctions – agreed in principle on Friday – should be first implemented and then suspended if the ceasefire holds, or whether they should not be implemented at all at this stage.

While the discussions appear largely procedural, many countries opposed to further punishment of Moscow for sending troops into Ukraine see it as an opportunity to block the package and avoid retaliatory measures from Russia, diplomats said.

One said: “On Friday, ambassadors agreed what should be in the sanctions package. Today they returned to a discussion of how to implement them to reflect the positive developments on the ground.”

Some EU governments wanted to discuss whether the new sanctions should be frozen before being implemented because of the ceasefire in Ukraine, or, if the new sanctions are implemented, how could they be suspended and when.

A ceasefire took effect in Ukraine on Friday evening, part of a peace plan intended to end a five-month conflict the United Nations’ human rights envoy said had killed more than 3,000 people. The truce was largely holding yesterday, though each side accused the other of sporadic shelling, including in the city of Mariupol, where Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko paid an unscheduled visit.

The proposed new EU sanctions put Russia’s top oil producers and pipeline operators Rosneft, Transneft and Gazprom Neft on a list of Russian state-owned firms that will not be allowed to raise capital or borrow on European markets.

However, the EU sanctions do not include the gas sector and in particular state-owned Gazprom, the world’s biggest producer and the biggest supplier to Europe.

In general, the sanctions – on Russian companies raising money in the European Union – will apply to firms that have turnover of more than one trillion roubles (about £16.7bn), half of which is generated from the sale or transport of oil, an EU diplomat said.

A further 24 individuals will be added to a list of those barred from entry to the bloc and whose assets in the EU are frozen. The list is expected to include separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine, the government of Ukraine’s Crimea region annexed by Moscow, and Russian decision-makers and oligarchs.

Russia signalled yesterday that it might ban Western airlines from flying over its territory as part of an “asymmetrical” response to the new sanctions.

Blaming the West for damaging the Russian economy by triggering “stupid” sanctions, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would press on with measures to reduce reliance on imports, starting with increasing output of domestic aircraft.

Mr Poroshenko said yesterday that Kiev had agreed with a number of Nato member countries on the direct supply of arms to Ukraine, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

It quoted a presidential statement as saying: “An agreement was managed with a series of Nato countries on direct deliveries of modern weapons which will help us protect ourselves and win.”

A senior aide to Mr Poroshenko said on Sunday Kiev had agreed at the Nato summit in Wales the provision of weapons and military advisers from five Nato member states. However, four of the five denied this.

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke with Mr Poroshenko by telephone about a peaceful resolution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin said yesterday.

A Kremlin statement said that the conversation allowed the leaders to discuss “steps that will facilitate a peaceful resolution to the situation”.