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Poland, Ireland and the Baltics push for EU sanctions on Gazprombank and Russian diamonds

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By Jorge Liboreiro  & Shona Murray
The five countries demand an EU-wide import ban of Russian-made diamonds.
The five countries demand an EU-wide import ban of Russian-made diamonds.   -   Copyright  LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/AP

Gazprombank, the entity that has proven instrumental in completing gas payments between Russia and the European Union, should be expelled from the SWIFT system in the next round of EU sanctions, according to a joint proposal by Poland, Ireland and the three Baltic states.

In a document obtained by Euronews, the five member states present a series of measures in response to Vladimir Putin's plans to bring up to 300,000 reservists into the Russian army and organise referendums in the occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine.

The votes, seen by experts as a possible prelude to full annexation, have been harshly condemned by Western countries as a "sham."

The mobilisation decree and the referendums are fuelling calls for a fresh raft of EU sanctions against Russia.

"I think this calls for sanctions from our part, again," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week.

Since the Kremlin launched the invasion of Ukraine, the bloc has imposed six rounds of penalties, together with complementary measures to fine tune their efficiency and expand their scope.

The Commission said the next package will focus on civilian technology, without providing further details.

In their joint paper, Poland, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania suggest the path the bloc should choose to pile pressure on Russia.

The five countries want Gazprombank to be finally expelled from SWIFT, a high-security system that allows financial transactions. The Moscow-based bank acts as intermediary between EU clients and Gazprom, Russia's gas monopoly, and enables the conversion of euros into roubles.

Since several countries in Eastern and Central Europe remain highly dependent on pipeline gas coming from Russia, Gazprombank has been so far spared from the SWIFT blacklist, a notable omission that Ukrainian officials have repeatedly criticised. 

The document also puts forward a prohibition for EU companies to provide any sort of insurance service for the Russian government, agencies and corporations. The measure envisions an exemption if the risk insured is located in EU territory or if it relates to diplomatic missions.

On technology, the five countries offer a long list of products and services whose commerce should be either banned or heavily restricted, such as the export of EU-made smartphones, cameras, projectors, lasers, radio apparatus, lenses and prisms, as well as computer software, hardware maintenance, web-hosting services and cybersecurity systems.

The group also proposes an EU-wide ban on the use of technology developed by Kaspersky Lab, a Russian multinational known for its world-famous antivirus.

Diamond ban, back on the table

Beyond high tech, Poland, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania push together for a ban on the import of diamonds that originate or have been processed in Russia.

The EU has already halted the export of its diamonds towards Russia in a bid to hurt the country's wealthy elite, but Russia is still allowed to send diamonds into the bloc's market.

According to the International Trade Centre, exports of Russian diamonds were worth $4.5 billion in 2021.

Their top destination is Belgium, whose diamond centre in Antwerp dominates the international market in the cutting and polishing of the precious material.

For the past months the Belgian government has been under scrutiny over its perceived opposition to further constraining diamond trade with Russia.

"Diamond trade in Antwerp has adapted over the months of this conflict and choices have been made," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said this month, speaking in the Flemish city.

"If you look at the situation today and the volume of trade with Russia compared to before the war, we are in a new world and these are deliberately choices that had been made in Antwerp."

De Croo noted "sanctions should focus more on the aggressor, rather than ourselves."

In another section of the joint document, the five countries propose to prohibit the sale of EU-based real estate to any Russian national, resident or company – unless they have the right of permanent residency.

Poland, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also suggest the EU should broaden its definition of the energy sector to impose restrictions on the trade of nuclear technology.

EU sanctions have to be approved by unanimous agreement of the 27 member states.

"We support the strongest possible sanctions, but we are also aware that the strength lies in the solidarity and unanimity," said a diplomat from one of the five signatories. "So we will work towards that."