EU diplomats reached a preliminary agreement on Monday (28 July) on a list of associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin and companies that will face sanctions as part of tougher measures over Moscow's actions in Ukraine, EU sources said.
During more than three hours of talks, they also agreed on new measures to restrict trade and investment in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this year.
Diplomats will hold more talks today (29 July) to try to forge agreement on broader economic sanctions on Russia, targeting capital markets, defence and sensitive technology, provided all 28 EU member states can agree.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said they could not give full details of the new list, which is expected to be published late tomorrow, and is in addition to 87 people and 20 organisations already subject to EU sanctions against Russia.
Two diplomats said that the new list contained fewer than 12 names in total and one said there were eight names and three entities.
The trade and investment restrictions also agreed in principle on Monday would ban investment in certain sectors in Crimea, including infrastructure and the energy sector. They would also ban the export of equipment to those sectors in Crimea.
After months of hesitation, EU resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine earlier this month of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board.
Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.
Of those who died, 194 were from the Netherlands and the grief and anger of the Dutch people marked a turning point in the European Union's attitude to Russia.
Still, EU diplomats say they cannot be expected to impose measures as tough as the United States has agreed, given the risk of pushing fragile EU economies back into recession.
In a letter to EU leaders last week, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the proposed sanctions package "should have a strong impact on Russia's economy while keeping a moderate effect on EU economies".
There was "an emerging consensus", he said, on some key principles, including only targeting future contracts, which would leave France free to go ahead with the controversial delivery of Mistral helicopter carriers being built for Russia.
Another principle was that the EU would also only target sensitive energy technologies in the oil sector, avoiding Russian gas.
The European Union is Russia's biggest gas market. Germany, as the biggest customer in volume terms relies on affordable gas for its huge industrial sector.
"One of the most complicated issues is new technology in the energy sector because every time anyone says the word energy, that makes countries like Germany nervous," one European source said on condition of anonymity.
Pressure is mounting on Russia after an international tribunal ordered it to repay $50 billion damages to former shareholders in the Yukos oil company.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague made the biggest ever compensation award in an arbitration case yesterday (28 July). They ruled that Russia carried out a series of "politically motivated" attacks on Yukos to destroy the company and jail main shareholder Mikhail Khordorkovsky. Khorodorkovsky was becoming a potential political rival to Putin before his arrest at gunpoint and decade-long imprisonment.
Much of Yukos' assets are now owned by Rosneft, which is now subject to US sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Smolesk victims' families: 'Access is key to ensure justice is done'
On Tuesday, a letter was circulated, sent by the families of the victims of the Polish airplane crash that happened in 2010 at the Russian airport of Smolensk, which cost the lives to 96 Poles.
The letter lashes out at the Russians' handling of the crash, stating that "[M]isconduct and delay on behalf of Russian authorities, on a territory we may add that was fully under Russian control, meant that for nearly two years we were unable to disprove the investigation’s fabricated conclusions of Russian authorities."
Addressed to the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, the emotional letter reads: “We feel that we have gained some unfortunate experience that is worth sharing with you and the families at this juncture to prevent further trauma to the families."
On Tuesday, The Netherlands’ foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, announced another Dutch victim, bringing the death toll to 195 Dutch victims. In total, 283 passengers and 15 crew members lost their lives.
A number of bodies were brought home for burial last week. But many relatives of the victims are still awaiting the repatriation of bodies, angry at the Ukrainian authorities who started an offensive in eastern Ukraine this weekend which is hampering the efforts.
The signatories stress that independent inspectors should have “unfettered access to, and control of, the post mortem and identification process, as well as access to the crash site”.
The Smolensk plane crash happened on 10 April 2010. The plane was part of Poland’s air force and carried 96 people when crashing during an attempt to land at the Western Russian city’s airport. All 96 on board died in the crash.
Amongst the victims of the crash were a number of high-level Polish officials, including the then president Lech Kaczyński and his wife, the former president Ryszard Kaczorowski and the country’s military top. The letter was signed, amongst others, by the daughter of Lech and Maria Kaczyński.
A number of family members of the Smolensk disaster have also submitted a petition to the European Parliament's committee on petitions, on Thursday 24 July. The petitioners are seeking the support and involvement of the European Union to address the unresolved aspects of the Polish plane crash.
"It is with great sadness, that we are resubmitting the petition to the European Parliament to assist the families who lost their loved ones on 10 April 2010 in a plane crash in Russia. As recent circumstances have illustrated inaction on behalf of European institutions means not only prolonged injustice to the families of the 10 April 2010 crash but now also the families of MH17 where similar issues and breaches are already an issue," said Marta Kochanowska, the daughter of the late Polish Ombudsman Janusz Kochanowski, who died in the crash.
"It is more apparent than ever that accountable processes and remedies need to be put in place as soon as possible," she stressed in a statement.