European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned new EU measures will be introduced to set a new precedent for Brussels action as part of a fresh round of Russia sanctions. In a thinly-veiled threat at China and Iran, during a visit to Kyiv, she said: “We recently see a growth of highly unusual trade flows through the European Union and certain third countries. These goods then end up in Russia.”
Standing next to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, she did not name the countries she was referring to, but EU officials have raised concerns about certain flows of goods through China and Iran for some time.
She said: “If we see that goods are going from the European Union to third countries and then end up in Russia, we could propose to the member states to sanction those goods.”
All 27 members must approve any sanctions unanimously. Over the last several months, von der Leyen’s commission has become responsible for proposing what sanction action to take, leaving the member countries to thrash out their differences, sometimes over several weeks.
She added: “This tool will be a last resort and it will be used cautiously following a very diligent risk analysis and after approval by EU member states. But there should be no doubt that we work against sanctions circumvention.”
The bloc has imposed 10 rounds of sanctions on Russia since President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine on February 24. Banks, companies and markets have been hit — even parts of the sensitive energy sector. Well over 1,000 officials are subject to asset freezes and travel bans.
Much work has involved closing loopholes so that goods vital to Putin’s war effort do not get through. However, it is the first time that plans have been announced to target trade via other countries, apart from sanctions against Iranians alleged to be supplying drones to Russia.
Past sanctions have been agreed in just months — extremely quickly for the EU. But new measures are becoming increasingly hard to endorse as they inflict damage on the economic and political interests of some member countries even as they aim for the Kremlin.
The Russian leader argued it is the West that is “cancelling the results one World War 2” causing a “tragedy” in Ukraine.
Responding to his accusations, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “There is only one person who is responsible for the illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and that is President Putin. The crimes that are being committed are appalling.
“The suffering that is being inflicted on the Ukrainian people is appalling.
“That is why it is right that we remain steadfast in supporting the people of Ukraine to stand up to that aggression. That’s what I and the United Kingdom will continue to do.”