EU’s Crimea sanctions modelled on occupied Palestinian territories

"Little green men" prepared the annexation of Crimea. [Wikimedia]

The Commission is close to finalising proposals for economic and trade sanctions regarding Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula occupied by Russia. A final decision by member states is expected soon, diplomats told EURACTIV.

At their meeting held yesterday (14 April), EU ministers said they were looking forward to the Commission’s evaluation of the legal consequences of the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and to the related proposals for economic, trade and financial restrictions regarding the peninsula.

According to EU diplomats, Crimea is “occupied territory” comparable to the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. 

Regarding trade, the same kind of restrictions for the occupied Palestinian territories will apply, diplomats said. Products originating in the Israeli settlements in the West-Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are not entitled to benefit from preferential tariff treatment under the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Regarding travel, it is likely that no EU airlines will fly to Crimea, or overfly its territory, and no EU ships would dock in the peninsula ports.  In fact, overflights of Crimea by aircraft of EU countries have been stopped since Ukraine lost the control over the peninusla’s airspace.

The EU measures are intended to deliver the message that the Union doesn’t regard Crimea’s new status as part of the Russian Federation as a “fait accompli”. Moreover, the EU has no intention to help the Russian authorities in promoting Crimea as a “special economic zone”, a tax haven, a tourist destination or whatever initiatives the Kremlin might have planned for the peninsula.

Also, the European Commission wishes to avoid having individual member states enticed by Russian proposals to do business, or start regular flights to a territory which the Union considers as occupied.

The restrictions regarding Crimea are unrelated to the “third level of sanctions” expected to hit Russia’s economy in the case Russia escalates the Ukraine crisis further. The Czech Foreign Minister, Lubomír Zaorálek, recently said that the new sanctions would be triggered in the case Russia crosses Ukraine’s mainland border.

The Russian authorities have already decided that Crimea would be given a tax break for at least 6 years, and that big investors will be provided with many incentives. One of the ideas under discussion is to transform the peninsula into the “European Las Vegas”, by building a powerful casino industry, using the construction-building potential that erected the infrastructure for the Sochi Olympics.

Russian companies have also reportedly been asked by the Kremlin to send their employees for holidays to Crimea, instead of the usual destinations of Turkey and Cyprus. Crimea has reportedly had 6 million tourists in 2012, of which 4 million were Ukrainian. A major drop in the number of tourists is expected for the current year.

The Commission proposals are in a very advanced stage of preparation, and they could most probably be adopted on the occasion of an emergency EU summit, to be possibly held next week.

In the meantime, the names of the four Ukrainians officials added to a list of persons under visa ban and asset freeze has become public. Those are Serhiy Arbuzov, a deputy Prime Minister who served as Prime Minister just for a month before President Viktor Yanukovich fled the country, Yuriy Ivanyushcheko, an MP from Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, Oleksandr Klymenko, a former minister of revenues and former energy minister Edward Stavytskyi. 

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

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