EU explores Russia options, adopts sanctions against Wagner group

European Foreign Affairs Ministers Council in Brussels, Belgium, 13 December 2021. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

EU foreign ministers on Monday (13 December) discussed options for a possible new round of economic sanctions against Russia, in coordination with the United States and Britain, ahead of two crucial summits in Brussels this week.

“We are in deterrent mode,” the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell had told reporters arriving at the meeting, in reference to Russia’s build-up of troops on Ukraine’s borders.

Ministers were set to discuss a much larger package of potential economic sanctions against Russia, to be held in reserve with the option of a potential gradual escalation in strength.

These range from possible travel bans and asset freezes on Russian politicians to banning financial and banking links with Russia, EU diplomats said.

Other possibilities could potential measures against the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline to prevent it from becoming operational or targeting more Russian state-owned defence and energy companies or cancelling natural gas contracts.

However, Nord Stream 2 as such has not been raised at the meeting, according to an EU diplomat.

“In any case, we will send a clear signal that any aggression against Ukraine will have a high cost for Russia,” Borrell said, adding that the bloc was “studying together with the US and the UK what sanctions could be, when and how, in a coordinated manner.”

However, no decisions will be taken on Monday, with the discussion passed on to an EU leaders summit on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Borrell, however, did not confirm whether there would be a list of options presented to them.

On Sunday, G7 foreign ministers had warned Russia of “massive consequences” if it attacked Ukraine.

“Ministers – all of them – have been very clear today that any aggression against Ukraine, will come with political consequences and with a high economic cost for Russia,” Borrell said after Monday’s meeting.

Wagner sanctions

Later in the day, EU foreign ministers agreed to slap sanctions on targets linked to the Russian private military company Wagner, said by Western capitals to being working on behalf of the Kremlin in conflict zones such as Ukraine, Syria and Libya.

Wagner has also offered its services to governments in sub-Saharan Africa, including Mali and the Central African Republic.

According to their joint statement, the individuals listed are “involved in serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, or in destabilising activities in some of the countries they operate in”.

In a sanctions list drawn up by EU officials and unanimously approved by foreign ministers, the mercenary group was targeted with an asset freeze, along with eight individuals and three energy companies.

Wagner is said to be financed by 60-year-old Saint Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin – reputedly close to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin – who has already been hit with EU and US sanctions for destabilising Libya and meddling in US elections.

The sanctions list also includes Dmitry Utkin, now said to be Wagner’s commander and responsible for mercenary operations in Ukraine, Alexander Kuzentsov, a commander accused of threatening the peace and security of Libya and retired colonel Andrei Roshev, a founding executive director of Wagner now commanding mercenary troops in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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