EU countries start talks on new Russia sanctions

EU states began discussions yesterday May 10th on proposed new sanctions against Russia that would target mainly Chinese and Iranian firms, and would also allow export curbs on third countries that breached existing trade restrictions.

Talks among EU envoys were expected to be heated, according to one diplomat speaking to Reuters, with the EU divided along several fault lines – the main one being between those countries that want to be tougher on Moscow, and those who are concerned at the EU damaging its international ties with countries that are not part of the EU/G7/Australia alliance.

Several diplomats said that the widely different perspectives being brought to the discussions meant that a quick deal was not expected.

The EC, ever strong on symbolism, saw the Council chief executive Ursula von der Leyen visit Kyiv on Tuesday May 9th. She said that the new sanctions would focus on cracking down on circumvention of Russia trade curbs already in place, and that they were designed “in very close coordination” with Group of Seven (G7) nations.

“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’ export”, she said, while adding that “this tool will be a last resort and it will be used cautiously”.

Von der Leyen said that the EU would stop transit via Russia of more of its exports, including advanced tech products and aircraft parts.

Citing unnamed diplomatic sources familiar with the proposal, which has been drafted by the EC, Reuters said that the draft included the blacklisting of “tens” of new companies, including some from China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The new sanctions would also highlight that oil tankers were not allowed to offload in high seas or arrive in ports with their GPS trackers off. This is being seen as an attempt by the EU to push back against the almost flagrant flouting of G7 restrictions on trading Russian oil via STS transfers, the blending of sanctioned oil and non-sanctioned oil, and deliberate periods of sailing without AIS – often implemented by vessels that are part of a new “dark fleet” of shipping whose beneficial owners remain shrouded in mystery. One rumour that has had legs is that Russian oil companies have been using international middlemen to buy tankers for cash, and then using those vessels, often at the older end of the tanker age spectrum, to transfer Russian oil into the international markets in a manner that conceals its true origin.