Ukraine wants more sanctions against Russia but Brussels can’t help anymore – POLITICO


If Ukraine and its supporters had any hope of further EU sanctions in the short term, Hungary simply crushed it.

This week, Budapest opposed the bloc’s usual extension of sanctions against Russian oligarchs, calling for the removal of three businessmen from the list.

EU countries eventually integrated Budapest, but the threats illustrated how Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán is unafraid to use every tool at his disposal – in this case an automatic technical procedure – for leverage Politics.

More than six months into the war, the EU now appears to have lost its sanctions mojo.

In the first months after Russia’s February 24 invasion, European diplomats and officials worked frantically to hit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies and industries with sanctions. The bloc’s solidarity in its willingness to exert pressure on the Russian economy – even amid domestic costs – has stunned even some of the EU’s harshest critics.

But now, as a senior official from one EU country put it, the bloc just doesn’t think about sanctions anymore.

“The appetite is lower,” according to a senior diplomat from an EU country. “It got harder with each package.”

The long delay in adopting the EU oil embargo against Russia – and the excruciating process to devise exemptions and compensation for recalcitrant nations like Hungary – have left bitter memories. Orbán’s move this week was just another reminder of that painful episode.

For a future package, the top EU diplomat said, the real fear is that Hungary will not just block, but in fact completely block the decision.

And it’s not just Hungary. Italy’s future stance on sanctions is also of concern once Rome has a new government. Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, argued that Western sanctions against Russia were hurting Italy and called on other leaders to rethink their approach.

Overall, in Western Europe, sanctions fatigue has set in, especially as it becomes increasingly difficult to find measures that harm Russia more than the EU in terms of economic.

More importantly, growing voter anger over soaring energy and consumer prices is also making European politicians increasingly nervous.

“We risk a winter of discontent,” an EU official said, dismissing any talk of further sanctions. “The current energy crisis is making all political leaders nervous because they fear the political consequences. In many countries it is about the survival of their governments.”

Enforcement

The European Commission now wants to focus on implementing existing sanctions and closing potential loopholes.

But even that is not an easy task. Ukrainian Deputy Justice Minister Iryna Mudra is traveling to European and US capitals this month to convince governments to track down the assets of sanctioned Russians and confiscate them.

The EU laid down legal grounds for such measures earlier this year, but after proposing legislation that would make circumventing sanctions a crime and create grounds for confiscating private assets, little has happened in the past. of summer.

“They plan to start consultations on the directive in October,” Mudra told POLITICO after meeting with EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders on Tuesday. “They will do their best to adopt this… directive as soon as possible, so all the preparatory work should be done by the end of the year.”

Mudra also wants the EU to confiscate Russian state property, not just private property, to use for Ukraine’s reconstruction.

This plan, however, faces legal hurdles and is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon – something Mudra acknowledges.

“It was an interesting discussion, they listened to us with some interest – and although they argued that it should be Russia that pays for the atrocities in principle, there are still legal issues related to immunity sovereign,” she said. “But at least they’ll start thinking about it.”

keep pushing

Sanctions fatigue frustrates Ukraine and EU countries leading the charge against Moscow, such as Poland and the Baltics.

The most hawkish countries continue to push for a possible round of EU sanctions against Russia, two European diplomats have said. “We will continue to be the irritating voice within the EU,” said a diplomat.

They have a wide range of suggestions. One is the oil price cap, as discussed in the G7. Another is to sanction the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel, given the situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Other suggestions are more sanctions against cloud services, cryptocurrencies and other technologies.

Continued Russian aggression should be enough to justify tightening pressure on Moscow, another EU diplomat said. As the warmongering countries’ campaign continues, they may have a long wait. “Nobody wants to talk about new sanctions now,” an EU official said.

Paola Tamma, Jacopo Barigazzi and Karl Mathiesen contributed reporting.

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