The EU agrees to the first energy sanctions against Russia by vetoing the import of coal | International

Finally, there will be a first EU strike against Russia’s energy sector. But along the way, the community block has left the first seams in the unity of the Twenty-seven in the air. The fifth package of sanctions, which includes a ban on imports of Russian coal, received the approval of the ambassadors of the community partners on Thursday after two days of intense debate.

The discussion has been of an eminently political nature, according to diplomatic sources, and manages to avoid Hungary’s reluctance for a Russian energy embargo for the time being. But Budapest, a capital in tune with the Kremlin, has already warned that any further step, which involves turning off the Russian oil or gas tap, will be much more complicated; even a red line that is not willing to cross. Other countries such as Germany and Austria have also shown their reservations about suddenly and immediately importing these two fuels, which represent the true economic manna for the Vladimir Putin regime.

The negotiation has also been delayed due to technical components and fine-tuning of measures for which the 27 capitals have barely had time to review, diplomatic sources add. But the slow process shows how cracks begin to open in the unity of the EU as the community bloc increases the impact of sanctions: the deeper the retaliation, the more the bone is pricked and the Twenty-seven are divided. “The more time passes, the more complicated it is going to be,” warns a high-ranking community source of what is coming.

The problem in this fifth package has not been so much giving the go-ahead to the coal embargo, worth about 4,000 million euros and almost testimonial in Hungary. The real conflict has been that a first cut of the Russian energy tap means entering unknown territory and opens a very uncomfortable debate for some countries highly dependent on Russian fuel, such as Hungary, Austria and Germany. The next steps could be just around the corner, depending on how the war in Ukraine evolves: “Oil is already on the table, and that is what is causing the friction,” says a diplomatic source.

Just a week ago, the Russian coal embargo was not even included in the draft of the fifth package of measures. But the chilling atrocities discovered last weekend in Bucha and other cities on the outskirts of kyiv, in Ukraine, allegedly committed by Russian soldiers, forced the European Commission to urgently put together a more forceful proposal.

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In Brussels they are aware that at any moment this event could happen that triggers this same process with oil, which represents the largest item of energy imports from Russia by the EU: it amounts to 42,000 million euros per year, 10 times more than coal, according to figures from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), and even higher than gas, which reaches a value of 28,400 million, but on which the EU is, however, more dependent.

Germany, the economic and industrial engine of the EU, leads the consumption of Russian fuels: its imports of gas by gas pipeline add up to 55% of the total of the Twenty-seven; those of oil reach 22% of the group, according to CREA. Berlin defends that it could achieve a gradual substitution of Russian oil by the end of the year; but he sees it difficult to cut off the gas that flows from Russia before 2024.

“Okay, [el petróleo] it is not in the fifth package of sanctions that are being discussed today; there is only coal, but I think it will be discussed on Monday in the Council of Foreign Ministers. And, sooner or later, I hope that soon, it will happen”, said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, before entering the meeting of NATO foreign ministers that is being held this Thursday in Brussels.

Ukraine demands the total embargo

The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmitro Kuleba, an exceptional guest at the meeting of the allies in NATO, has, on the other hand, been much harsher. The coal embargo is not enough for kyiv, he has assured in an appearance with the secretary general of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, just before the meeting in Brussels. The new package of sanctions represents a “step forward”, Kuleba has assessed, especially when “a week ago they were much looser, to say the least. We were very unhappy.”

The adopted package also does not satisfy 100% your expectations. “We will continue to insist on a full embargo on Russian oil and gas, on taking out of SWIFT [el sistema de pagos interbancarios] to all Russian banks”, Kuleba has listed. Then his speech has turned dark and has brought out the colors of the EU: “I hope that we will not again face a situation in which to intensify the pressure of sanctions we need atrocities like Bucha’s to be revealed”, he said. . “I do not think that the Ukrainians have to pay with their lives, their health and their suffering for the political will of the partners to impose sanctions.”

Many of the capitals, in any case, assume that an at least partial embargo on all Russian fuels will be unavoidable. “Sooner or later, measures will also be necessary on oil and even gas,” said the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, in an appearance in the European Parliament on Wednesday. The Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, has raised the dilemma in much more graphic terms. In an appearance on Wednesday, he said the time has come to ask whether EU leaders prefer peace “or keep the air conditioning on.”

The European Parliament has added to the pressure by approving a resolution on Thursday calling for “an immediate and total embargo on Russian imports of oil, coal, nuclear fuel and gas.” The text has gone ahead with 512 votes in favor, 22 against and 19 abstentions.


The new package also includes an expansion, to over a thousand, in the list of sanctioned people whose assets are frozen and entry into European Union territory is prohibited as a result of their collaboration with the regime of Vladimir Putin and its war, economic and media machinery. Among the new names, the two daughters of the Russian president, Katerina Tijonova and Maria Vorontsova, stand out, according to the draft to which EL PAÍS has had access. By sanctioning two daughters of Putin, Brussels supports the United States, which adopted the same decision on Wednesday.

File image from 2021 of Katerina Tikhonova, daughter of Vladimir Putin.
File image from 2021 of Katerina Tikhonova, daughter of Vladimir Putin.EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA (REUTERS)

Tikhonova, Putin’s eldest daughter, is 38 years old, according to the draft, and has been director of the new artificial intelligence institute at Moscow State University, “financed with state funds.” She currently, she adds, runs the development initiative Innopraktika, “financed by key Russian companies whose directors are members of President Putin’s inner circle of oligarchs close.” “Therefore”, the text continues, “it benefits from the Government of the Russian Federation and is associated with prominent persons who participate in economic sectors that provide an important source of income to the Government of the Russian Federation”, in addition to the link with its father, which also highlights the text.

Vorontsova, the youngest of Putin’s daughters, 37, is co-owner of the Nomenko company, which participates in the largest private investment project in Russia in the field of health, with an estimated cost of 40,000 million rubles. “She benefits from the Government of the Russian Federation and participates in economic sectors that provide an important source of income to the Government of the Russian Federation,” the draft states.

The list proposed by the European Commission adds 200 new names of politicians, oligarchs and their relatives, and another 18 entities – a total of 73 have already been sanctioned – and the nomenclature is part of the package of reprisals against Russia that, at the end of this Thursday, the ambassadors of the Twenty-seven continued negotiating and fine-tuning at forced marches in Brussels, pending “technical issues”, according to the expression used in diplomatic circles, related above all to energy sanctions.

The Community Executive had already warned that with the new package of retaliation it intended to strike a blow against the close family circle of the elites and the powerful already sanctioned, in order to avoid loopholes through which they can avoid the restrictive measures in progress Against them. Putin himself and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, had already been sanctioned with the freezing of their assets in the early stages of the invasion, although both are allowed to travel to community territory, in order to leave a path open to diplomacy.

The blow to the family circle reaches parents, brothers, sons, daughters and stepdaughters, mothers-in-law, wives and ex-wives, forming a manual of financial escapism for the Russian economic elites. The list includes, for example, Olga Ayziman, ex-wife of Mijail Fridman, owner of the Dia supermarket chain through the LetterOne investment group, as well as founder and one of the main shareholders of the Alfa Group, which includes the important Russian bank Alfa Bank, “considered one of the main Russian financiers and facilitator of Putin’s inner circle,” according to the text. “Fridman is the main sponsor of his ex-wife’s activities and needs after she moved to Paris,” she adds.

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