The European Union agreed on Friday to slap a new round of sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, a hard-fought decision that almost missed the bloc’s self-imposed deadline of 24 February that was supposed to coincide with the war’s one-year anniversary.
The fresh raft bans EU exports worth at least €11 billion, blacklists propagandists and, for the first time, directly targets Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for their covert military aid to the Kremlin.
But the final deal by ambassadors took longer than expected as negotiations went down to the wire, following unsuccessful attempts on both Wednesday and Thursday.
Approving sanctions requires the unanimous consent of all 27 member states.
Diplomats who spoke to Euronews on condition of anonymity described a series of divisive moves that hindered talks, including a Hungarian request to remove several Russian names from the EU’s blacklist, a renewed Polish-Lithuanian push to sanction Russia’s nuclear sector, and an unpopular proposal by the European Commission to fine EU governments who fail to report on the location of frozen assets by the Russian Central Bank.
None of them gained enough traction and were consequently dropped.
By Thursday evening, a phased-in ban on imports of Russian-made synthetic rubber had emerged as the very last obstacle to the green light. Synthetic rubber has many uses in the car-making industry, chief among them the manufacturing of tires.
The EU imported €625 million of Russian synthetic rubber last year – down from €655 million in 2021, according to numbers provided by Eurostat.
Poland, the main hold-out in the talks and itself a synthetic rubber exporter, argued the exempted quota within the proposed ban was far too generous for Russia and did not reflect market trends, while Germany and Italy expressed reservations about the measure’s economic impact.
“We believe that for certain petrochemical products, the proposed transition periods are too long and the proposed quota is far too high. Especially when there are substitutes on the EU market,” Polish Ambassador Andrzej Sadoś told reporters following Thursday’s discussions.
“Imposing sanctions that will not affect Russia’s budget is useless.”
The impasse was broken late on Friday evening after protracted bilateral meetings that paved the way for a compromise on the rubber ban between Poland and the most reluctant countries.
Poland secured commitments to establish a “special mechanism” to diversify suppliers of synthetic rubber and to lay the groundwork for EU sanctions on Russia’s nuclear sector, a diplomat said.
During negotiations, ambassadors also decided to maintain two Russian entities inside the blacklist despite warnings from the EU Council’s legal service, who had previously raised concerns about the insufficient evidence to support their inclusion and the prospect of a lawsuit, another diplomat said.
An EU Council spokesperson declined to comment on the identity of the two Russian entities.
Additionally, ambassadors reached a political agreement on the import of Russian diamonds, a sensitive topic for Belgium, but the issue will be further tackled in coordination with G7 partners.
In a joint statement, which was published before the EU sanctions were agreed upon, the G7 confirmed the collective work would cover rough and polished diamonds.
The group also announced the establishment of an Enforcement Coordination Mechanism to crack down on the circumvention of sanctions and “deny Russia the benefits of G7 economies.”
What’s in the new sanctions?
The latest package of EU sanctions – the 10th since February 2022 – introduces an export ban on industrial goods worth €11 billion, such as spare parts for trucks, jet engines, antennas and cranes, which the EU considers Moscow will struggle to replace with non-Western suppliers.
New restrictions are placed on dozens of so-called dual-use goods, which can be used for both civilian and military purposes, such as electronic circuits, rare earth materials and thermal cameras.
The European Commission estimates that, across the tens rafts of sanctions, the bloc has banned exports of all technology products found on the battlefield.
The blacklist is now expanded with more names of Russian propagandists, political representatives and army commanders, as well as individuals believed to be responsible for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children.
But a proposal to sanction the family members of blacklisted Russian oligarchs was not approved due to Hungarian resistance, a diplomat said.
For the first time ever, the EU extends its sanctions on Russia to target seven entities linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the powerful paramilitary force that works in close conjunction with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The bloc believes the IRGC are supplying Moscow with lethal ammunition, in particular with so-called “kamikaze drones,” which self-destroy once they hit their target, causing greater damage.
Although Tehran denies any involvement in the invasion, several reports have confirmed the use of Iranian-made drones, such as the Shahed-131 and the Shahed-136, in the destruction of Ukraine’s essential infrastructure.
With the Kremlin showing no signs of backing down, the EU and the G7 have become increasingly concerned about the possible support that other countries might provide to Russia as a lifeline to cushion the impact of sanctions and keep the war machine running.
The US has warned that China is considering supplying weapons and ammunition to Moscow, a move that Brussel says would be a “red line” in its relations with Beijing.
Chinese officials have denied the claims and accused Washington of spreading lies, but the warnings have nevertheless intensified the geopolitical tensions over the war in Ukraine.
Earlier this week, a face-to-face meeting between Vladimir Putin and Wang Li, China’s highest-ranked diplomat offered new signs of the importance Beijing attaches to its dealing with Moscow.