Ireland has joined Poland and the Baltic states in lobbying for more restrictive sanctions on Russia, a sign of growing moral outrage in Europe.
The Irish added their ‘IE’ stamp to a 9-page list of proposals, including bans on banks and the diamond industry, circulating in Brussels and seen by EUobserver on Friday (22 September).
Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin also sharply condemned Russia’s actions at the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday.
“Russia [is] behaving like a rogue state,” he said, referring to his plan to annex parts of eastern Ukraine.
Ireland is militarily neutral, at the other end of Europe from the war and has a liberal government.
Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO hawks with Russian borders who fear Russian aggression and have more conservative governing parties.
The Irish Foreign Office declined to comment on the novel EU grouping.
An EU diplomat described it as a “big deal,” showing how the conflict was changing European politics. A second EU diplomat speculated that the US, which has close ties with Ireland, may have pushed Dublin to align itself with Warsaw against more dovish EU capitals.
“We hope more will join the group,” said a Polish diplomat.
However, a fourth EU diplomat said this was not so surprising given Ireland’s record of “maximalist” positions on human rights issues.
The proposals, backed by Ireland, say that Russian lenders Gazprombank, Alfa Bank, Rosbank and Tinkoff Bank should be cut off from the international “Swift” payments network.
A ban on Gazprombank would have far-reaching consequences because it handles payments for Russian gas exports.
“It is forbidden to buy, import or transfer diamonds, directly or indirectly…if they come from Russia and if they have been exported from Russia to the [European] Union or to a third country,” the group also suggested complementing the EU’s sanctions regime. Russian diamond exports are worth 4 billion euros a year.
They called for a “ban on cooperation with Russia on nuclear energy”, the transfer of EU or US banknotes to Russia and the sale of real estate to Russians.
In the service sector, the EU should impose a “ban on the use of Kaspersky Lab”. [a Russian cybersecurity giant] technology” within Europe and prevents EU firms from doing IT work for Russian customers, the group said.
On the counter-propaganda front, they proposed shutting down three Russian TV channels (NTV Mir, REN TV and Rossiya 1) and six online channels (NewsFront, SouthFront, Katehon, Strategic Culture Foundation, Fondsk and InfoRos) from the airwaves.
They also called for an explicit ban on Russian funding of EU-registered lobby firms, NGOs and think-thanks.
They said people who help Russia evade sanctions should themselves be blacklisted by the EU for visa bans and asset freezes.
And they listed dozens of high-tech products that should no longer be exported to the EU’s warmongering neighbors, including smartphones, radars and lasers.
art of the possible
The proposals come as Russian-held regions in eastern Ukraine begin phony independence referendums leading to Russian annexation as soon as next week.
All 27 EU states are to hold talks with the EU Commission over the weekend about the feasibility of sanctions ideas.
“The Commission has held consultations with national capitals and is therefore in the best position to know what would be acceptable to all,” said another EU diplomat.
The least the EU will do is blacklist officials involved in the sham referendums, list some smaller Russian banks and ban some high-tech products, diplomats predicted.
They will also try to prevent companies from transporting Russian oil at inflated prices, for example by voiding insurance coverage for tankers involved in the trade.
The eighth round of sanctions comes after the EU has already listed 1,206 Russians and beaten most sectors of the Russian economy, leaving few big targets.
It remains to be seen whether Poland and the Baltic States will move forward with Irish support.
Pro-Russia Hungary has vetoed blacklists in the past and is up to its neck in nuclear cooperation with Russia’s Rosatom, which is building two reactors at Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant.
Also France, Germany and Italy as well as smaller countries like Austria, Cyprus and Greece are more moderate than Poland and the Baltic States.
And some EU sources saw the Irish-Polish-Baltic paper as a roadmap for subsequent action rather than a list of demands to be implemented in response to the annexations.
“It’s more of a reflection paper showing the direction of travel,” said an EU contact.