Russia ‘has right’ to respond to EU sanctions with its own

Comments come ahead of international monitors arrival in Ukraine to defuse the crisis

Russian soldiers on the move at a military base which was until recently controlled by Ukrainians, in Perevalne, Crimea, yesterday. Russia’s consolidation of power continued in Crimea even as the international business community continued to signal its unease. Photograph: Mauricio Lima/The New York Times

Russian soldiers on the move at a military base which was until recently controlled by Ukrainians, in Perevalne, Crimea, yesterday. Russia’s consolidation of power continued in Crimea even as the international business community continued to signal its unease. Photograph: Mauricio Lima/The New York Times

Sat, Mar 22, 2014, 09:28

Russia’s foreign ministry said today that Moscow has the right of a tit-for-tat response to the second wave of sanctions imposed by the European Union over Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

The EU imposed an new set of sanctions last night, adding 12 Russians and Ukrainians to a list of people targeted by EU asset freezes and travel bans. There are now 33 on the list.

“It’s a pity that the European Council made a decision that is divorced from reality,” the ministry’s spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

“We believe it is time to return to the platform of pragmatic cooperation that reflects the interests of our countries. However, of course, the Russian side reserves itself the right to give a comparable answer to the actions taken.”

In a separate statement, the ministry said Moscow hoped the decision to send to Ukraine a monitoring mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe would help resolve what it called an “internal Ukrainian crisis”.

Yesterday, after several failed attempts in recent weeks, Russia agreed to join the 56 other members of the OSCE in a consensus decision to send a six-month monitoring mission to Ukraine.

“The mission’s mandate reflects the new political and legal realities and does not apply to Crimea and Sevastopol, which became a part of Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry said in its statement today.

“Russia hopes that the objective and impartial work of the international observers will help to overcome the internal Ukrainian crisis, stop rampant nationalist banditry, eradicate ultra-radical tendencies.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin laughed off western sanctions against Russia, promising to open an account in a bank on the US blacklist, but indicating that he will not escalate the Ukraine crisis further.

A day after the US extended its sanctions blacklist, the Russian president told his security council that he would not take retaliatory measures against the US sanctions nor against threats that Ukraine will implement a visa regime with Russia.

Yesterday, he completed the annexation of Crimea by signing new legislation completing the transfer of the peninsula to the Russian Federation. Mr Putin described it as a “remarkable event”.

Western powers signalled their intention to maintain the pressure, with France announcing a suspension of all military co-operation with the country and offering warplanes to the Baltic republics, which also have sizeable Russian minority populations and borders with it. The US was reportedly organising military exercises in eastern Europe to include Poland and the Baltic trio of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

But Putin appeared insouciant in the face of the western manoeuvres. In response to the US move to include Bank Rossiya on the blacklist because it is believed to be the “personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation”, Mr Putin joked: “I personally didn’t have an account there, but I’ll definitely open an account there on Monday.”

As for the 20 influential officials added to the US sanctions list, a smiling Mr Putin warned: “Stay away from them, they’ll compromise us”.

Visa and Mastercard have stopped servicing cardholders of Bank Rossiya, as well as those of SMP Bank, which is controlled by the Rotenberg brothers now sanctioned by the US. The move marked the first time sanctions have affected ordinary Russians.

Yesterday foreign counterparties scrambled to reassess their dealings in Russia and shares fell as the effect of US sanctions on some of the country’s wealthiest men rippled through the financial sector.

Bank Rossiya, the only company to be named in the US sanctions list and described by Washington as “the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation”, said that Visa and MasterCard had suspended payment processing services to its clients.

In response, Russia’s central bank announced that “if necessary” it would take “appropriate measures” to protect the interests of Bank Rossiya’s depositors and creditors.

Agencies