Germany joins Poland and Baltic states to demand tougher sanctions against Russia

Hawkish EU member states are pushing for tough action against Russia, including ejecting more banks from the Swift messaging network and banning diamond imports, as the bloc drafts another round of sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

Countries like Poland and the Baltics are demanding the new measures — which also target luxury goods and Russia’s IT, cybersecurity and software industries — in response to Vladimir Putin’s military escalation this week.

Germany is also pushing for stricter sanctions. It circulated a proposal calling for a ban on EU companies providing financing to metal and rare earth mines in Russia, a ban on uranium imports from the country and further action against banks and individuals. It also wants EU countries to stop exporting specialist coal used to refine oil in Russia.

However, officials said it would be difficult to reach a consensus among all 27 member states, while Hungary has said it does not want any new sanctions at all.

The main goal of the European Commission is to push through a hard-fought G7 agreement to limit the price of Russian oil after months of US-led negotiations.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that new sanctions are needed to respond to Russia’s decision to begin a partial mobilization and take steps to annex parts of eastern Ukraine. But some officials think it will be difficult to get more than a limited number of sentences across all EU member states.

A possible new set of sanctions, which would be the eighth round of sanctions, has yet to be formally presented after meetings between Commission officials and representatives of member states starting on Friday. It is expected to include legislation to implement the cap on the price of Russian crude oil, more mentions of sanctioned individuals and measures targeting Russia’s IT, cybersecurity and software industries, officials said.

The EU’s latest attempt to pass a major sanctions package in May was met with public bitterness and weeks of infighting as countries led by Hungary refused to agree on an embargo on Russian oil until they were granted an exemption allowing their refineries to keep importing.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told a closed meeting of his Fidesz party on Wednesday that existing EU sanctions against Russia should be lifted, according to local media reports. The ruling party said on Thursday it had planned a “national consultation” on whether Hungarians supported the EU sanctions.

Despite these internal signs of opposition, diplomats in Brussels are pointing out that Budapest has so far supported all rounds of restrictions against Moscow and that the eighth is likely to have a significantly smaller impact on the Hungarian economy than the oil embargo.

The countries most urgent for the EU to increase pressure on Moscow, including Poland and the Baltic states, have circulated detailed measures they believe the commission should support. Their ideas include a ban on diamond imports, which would affect Belgium, ejecting more Russian banks from the global Swift network, restricting the availability of IT and other services to Russia, and applying the same sanctions. against Belarus, an ally of Moscow in the war.

But officials downplayed the prospect of a deal on some of the more ambitious ideas, as some countries argue that existing sanctions take longer to work. The EU needs unanimity to implement them.

“The more you put in, the more reason you give some member states to be difficult,” said an EU diplomat. “The flip side is that if there’s too little, the hawks will say it doesn’t go far enough.”

Another diplomat said the oil price ceiling should remain the focus of the new round, along with closing loopholes. “There are not many products left to hit as we are largely disconnected from the Russian economy,” the person said.

“I don’t know if we will get very far with announcing new sanctions without proper consultation,” an EU official said of von der Leyen’s comments, adding that it would be difficult to reach a consensus for a meeting of EU leaders in Prague in two weeks. .

The aim, according to two people briefed on the talks, is for EU ambassadors to discuss a draft set of new sanctions next week as Brussels looks to respond to Putin’s decision on Wednesday to call up reserves and launch a nuclear war. threaten in a speech.

A spokesman for the commission said on Thursday that EU foreign ministers “discussed the following possible restrictive measures that could be applied”, adding that discussions on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York were underway”.

A new round would focus on further sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations, as well as possible additional export controls on “civilian products,” the spokesman added. “That would be justified, as Russia is moving towards a war economy.”

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