EU approves ninth round of sanctions against Russia

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By Alice Tidey
European Council President Charles Michel (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Brussels.
European Council President Charles Michel (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Brussels.   -   Copyright  Olivier Matthys/Copyright 2022 The AP.

European Union ambassadors on Thursday evening approved the ninth round of sanctions against Russia as leaders gave their green light to an €18 billion aid package for Ukraine. 

The new sanctions package was finalised by ambassadors on the sidelines of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. 

The final text has not yet been released as it first needs to be sent and formally endorsed by all EU capitals but is expected to be made public on Friday.

The European Commission's proposal, released last week, planned for a further 200 Russian individuals and entities to be hit with asset freezes and travel bans. These include government ministers, lawmakers, regional governors, political parties and entities including the armed forces.

They will join the 1,241 individuals and 118 entities already blacklisted.

It also targeted the Russian defence industry, more Russian banks, and the mining sectors and planned for export controls on products such as chemicals, nerve agents, electronics, and IT components that could be used by the armed forces, as well as components for unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones. 

The package was held up for days over a disagreement by some EU nations over whether to include derogations to allow for payments to sanctioned Russian oligarchs at the head of companies exporting agricultural and food products.

The bloc has not imposed any sanctions on Russian food and agricultural products so as to not exacerbate a worrisome global food crisis. But the measures on the oligarchs prevent EU operators from participating directly or indirectly in commercial flows involving entities they own. 

The final text of the new package is expected to include a legal clause, already existing for sectoral sanctions, to the listings of individuals and entities. This clause is to provide legal certainty to EU operators that they can engage with large food and agriculture companies owned by sanctioned oligarchs provided they were already exporting before Russia launched its invasion, an EU diplomat told Euronews. 

This is to prevent attempts to circumvent sanctions through the creation of new businesses. 

Leaders meanwhile approved an €18 billion macro-financial assistance package for Ukraine for 2023 to ensure Kyiv can cover state deficits and keep the economy running as it continues to fight the Russian invasion. 

To fund the aid and loan it to Kyiv at a highly concessional rate the EU will raise common debt, a proposal that initially met resistance from Hungary.

But Budapest lifted its veto earlier this week after EU nations agreed to allow the sum of the EU funds it has frozen under the new rule of law mechanism from €7.5 billion to €6.3 billion. 

A Polish veto over the introduction of a minimum global corporate tax also threatened the adoption of the assistance package on Thursday but Warsaw, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, eventually lifted its objection.

A virtual address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which he described the package as "vital", is believed to have helped move the needle.

Zelenskyy urged European Council President Charles Michel "to ensure that our struggle for peace for Ukraine and for the whole of Europe does not depend on misunderstandings and controversies between some EU member states."

"The packages of macro-financial support for Ukraine are also weapons in defence of freedom. Just as the ninth package of EU sanctions against Russia. This is our protection. Please understand that! I hope that already in January we will be able to thank you for the first tranche of this macro-financial package," he added.