BRUSSELS: The EU on Friday added Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to its sanctions list over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell confirmed.
The step was agreed in an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels held to formally adopt a broad package of sanctions on Russia that Borrell has called the “harshest” ever drawn up by the bloc.
The package, approved by EU leaders in an overnight summit, hammer Russia’s financial, energy and transport sectors, and curb the ability of Russians to keep large amounts of cash in EU banks.
It also expands the number of Russians on the EU’s list of sanctioned individuals barred from entering the bloc’s 27 countries and whose EU assets are blocked.
Two EU officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Germany and Italy had resisted putting Putin and Lavrov on the EU’s list. The only other leaders on it are Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But that reluctance faded on Friday as Russian forces kept up their pounding of several Ukrainian cities and tightened their noose on the capital Kyiv, as tens of thousands of Ukrainians fled their country.
“We are hitting Putin’s system where it has to be hit, not only economically and financially, but also at the heart of its power,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said as she arrived for the Brussels meeting.
Britain was to follow the EU, saying it was planning “imminent” sanctions on Putin and Lavrov.
The West’s response to Russia’s assault on Ukraine has been coordinated between the EU, US, Canada and Britain.
SWIFT ban considered
The EU’s sanctions package — the second adopted this week as Russia’s went from threats to full-on military assault — comes into effect once it is published in the bloc’s Official Journal, expected to be late Friday or on Saturday.
The measures however stop short of kicking Russia out of the SWIFT messaging system used globally by banks to arrange transfers — a major tool that has been used to devastating effect against Iran.
Around 300 Russian banks use SWIFT.
“That question was considered. But we didn’t get necessary unanimity on it,” Borrell said. “So it’s not in the package, but it’s still on the table.”
Ukraine has lobbied fiercely for a SWIFT ban on Russia, but Germany and Italy — which rely on SWIFT to pay for Russian natural gas deliveries — are hesitant.
That reluctance, too, appeared to be softening. German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said in Paris on Friday that for a possible next round of EU sanctions on Russia, “we should also look into instruments that go beyond even the latest sanctions package, that includes SWIFT”.
Borrell, however, said the focus now for the EU was to implement the latest sanctions, and a third packet should not be expected “in the next days or hours”.