In reaction to President Vladimir Putin’s “barbaric” invasion of Ukraine, European Union leaders imposed strong new sanctions on Russia on Thursday, slamming its economy and elites.
Russian military bombarded Ukraine with missiles throughout the day, in the largest single-state offensive in Europe since World War Two.
As they gathered in Brussels for an emergency meeting, leaders from the 27-nation union slammed Putin one by one, with Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins denouncing him as “a foolish despot causing suffering for millions.”
As part of “the strongest package of sanctions we have ever enforced,” the EU would freeze Russian assets in the union and prevent banks from accessing European financial markets, according to Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy leader.
It will also put export curbs on Russia’s commerce, energy, and transportation industries, among others.
“Our sanctions will have a direct impact on the Russian economy,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated.
Even before the summit began, however, there was a feeling of impotence in the face of a conflict that Western leaders had foreseen.
“We were not successful enough, nor decisive enough, to prevent Russia from taking this move,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said. “This is a tragedy for Ukraine, a disaster for Europe, and a sorrow for Russia itself.”
“I continue to believe in the EU’s ability to avoid such measures in the heart of Europe.” As he entered the nighttime summit, he stated, “For this, we need to take action (now).” “It’s possible that tomorrow will be too late.”
Within the EU, there are disagreements on how far to go with sanctions, with countries that would face the most severe economic consequences preferring to hold off on taking the most drastic measures.
‘Serious and far-reaching implications’
Details of the restrictions were not immediately available, including if anything had been negotiated on the SWIFT global interbank payments system.
When questioned about SWIFT, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated, “We need to keep sanctions available for later times.” Ukraine and the EU’s ex-Soviet Baltic republics believe Russia should be shut off from the system.
For the time being, US President Joe Biden has stated that the US will not restrict SWIFT access.
The fresh wave of sanctions “will impose significant and severe costs on Russia for its behavior, in close collaboration with our partners and friends,” EU leaders said in a statement issued at the meeting.
Russian assets in the EU would be frozen, and Russian banks would be barred from accessing Europe’s financial markets.
According to one EU official, Italy, Germany, and Cyprus were among those who favoured a step-by-step strategy, whilst Central European and Baltic states – those closest to Russia – desired a more aggressive approach.
“We support the most punitive package of sanctions against Russia,” said Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who was dressed in a tie with the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag. “Russia must believe that the cost of aggression is high.”
On Wednesday, the EU agreed a first round of penalties, which included placing Russian MPs on a no-fly list and restricting commerce between the EU and two separatist areas of eastern Ukraine whose independence Moscow recognizes.