New EU sanctions against Russia come into effect

Russian President Vladimir Putin. []

The European Union put into effect on Friday (12 September) a new round of sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine, including restrictions on financing for some Russian state-owned companies and asset freezes on leading Russian politicians.

Sanctions published in the EU’s Official Journal included asset freezes and travel bans on Igor Lebedev, deputy speaker of the Russian State Duma lower house of parliament, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken nationalist politician and a number of leaders of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Also sanctioned was Sergei Chemezov, described as a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin from his KGB days in East Germany. He is chairman of Rostec, a leading defence and industrial group that includes arms supplier Rosoboronexport and a firm that is planning to build energy plants in Crimea.

In total 24 people are facing travel ban and asset freeze after they’ve been added to the existing list, which now totals 119 people and 23 companies.

The commission will recommend whether to adopt more sanctions or lift the measures at the end of September. 

The United States has announced last night (11 September) that it will join the EU and intensify sanctions on Russia in response to its illegal actions in Ukraine. “We will deepen and broaden sanctions in Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors. These measures will increase Russia’s political isolation as well as the economic costs to Russia, especially in areas of importance to President Putin and those close to him.  My Administration will outline the specifics of these new sanctions tomorrow,” said US President Barack Obama.

Abducted Estonian

The EU demanded on Thursday (11 September) that Moscow release immediately an Estonian security officer who Estonia said was abducted on the border and taken into Russia last week.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the Soviet KGB, said last Friday that an Estonian officer, identified as Eston Kohver, had been detained on Russian territory and was being investigated as a suspected spy.

Estonia and other former Soviet republics in the Baltics, which now belong to both the EU and NATO, have called on both organisations to take a tough stance towards Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

“We are concerned by the abduction on 5 September of Estonian police officer Eston Kohver by the Russian security services on Estonian territory near the Estonian-Russian border,” an EU spokesman said in a statement.

“Such action by the Russian Federation runs against international law and the principle of inviolability of borders.”

“The EU delegation in Moscow has been in contact with the Russian authorities asking for a swift resolution to the matter. We call for an immediate release of Mr Kohver and his safe return to Estonia,” the spokesman said.

Estonia said Kohver was abducted as he tried to stop illegal activity on the border. In recent years, the border has seen a number of incidents involving the smuggling of goods, weapons and migrants.

Russia’s FSB said Kohver had been carrying a Taurus handgun with ammunition, €5,000 euros in cash, special equipment for concealed audio recording and documents that “bear evidence of an intelligence mission”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration in March that he had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian speakers there caused alarm in Estonia and Latvia, which have large ethnic Russian minorities.

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.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The situation has worsened since then. In July, 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. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

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.

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