EU sanctions Russia at minimum, threatens Burmese army and consults Washington
Russia, Burma, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Belarus: EU foreign ministers tried to weigh in on fundamental rights violations in these countries on Monday, but targeted European sanctions are having little effect, lament supporters of more resolute actions.
Russian opponent Alexei Navalny bluntly told MEPs in November 2020, during his convalescence in Germany where he was treated after being poisoned in Russia. “The EU should target the money, the oligarchs, not just the old oligarchs, but the new ones, members of the circle close to Putin,” he said.
But the political agreement reached on Monday only targets four senior Russian officials involved in legal proceedings against the opponent and in the crackdown against his supporters.
“I hope for a quick decision, within a week no more” announced the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell.
Those close to Navalny said they were disappointed. “If it comes down to sanctioning ten Kremlin officials who don’t like to travel abroad and have no property abroad, then it won’t be painful and it won’t convey the message,” warned Leonid Volkov, who came to Brussels to plead for European sanctions against the oligarchs close to President Putin.
The Kremlin had warned the Europeans before their meeting on its intention to “react” in the event of “new round of restrictive, unilateral, illegitimate measures”.
The European Union does not want to cut ties with Moscow and is looking for an appropriate response to Russia’s authoritarian drift.
“We must be able to counter it when it crosses the red lines on human rights, to react when it threatens us and to engage with it on the subjects for which we have interests to defend”, explained Josep Borrell.
“The sanctions target the people who are responsible for the arrest of Alexey Navalny, his convictions and his persecutions,” he said.
– Criticism of ineffective sanctions –
“It is hardly possible to sanction the oligarchs. We can only act against officials, and that only if we have proof,” explained the head of Luxembourg diplomacy Jean Asselborn before the meeting.
The European sanctions consist of a visa ban and an asset freeze in the EU for the persons or entities concerned.
The Europeans discussed Monday by videoconference with the new US Secretary of State Antony Binken on their difficult relations with Russia.
The ministers also decided to sanction the soldiers responsible for the coup d’état in Burma. “The European measures will strike their interests, because in this country, the military are entrepreneurs and they own parts of the economy”, announced Josep Borrell.
They also sanctioned attacks on democracy and the rule of law committed by the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela with the registration of 19 senior officials on the blacklist of this country which now has 55 names.
The ministers also decided on Monday the principle of new sanctions against the repression carried out in Hong Kong, where the principle “one country, two systems” is questioned by China.
They finally announced that they were considering further measures against power in Belarus. But three sets of sanctions have already been adopted against the regime and President Alexander Lukashenko has been blacklisted without any effect. And the support shown by Vladimir Poutine confirms Minsk.
Critics are mounting against the ineffectiveness of targeted European sanctions. “Europe should not be afraid to use its economic levers against Russia,” argues Ian Bond, director for international political affairs at the Center for European reform (CER).
But “we should not wait for a united approach”, deplores the Italian Gianni Rotta, expert in disinformation with the European Commission.
“The EU is facing a pandemic and growing economic hardship, reliance on Russian gas and has a few member countries that either sympathize with the Kremlin or are dominated by populist parties fueled by Russia,” he said. explained in an interview for the Carnegie Europe center.
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