EU widens Russia sanctions but delays tougher action

Ireland to send 18 observers to monitor Ukraine’s presidential election on May 25th

People gather for the announcement of the referendum results on the status of the Republic of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Igor Kovalenko

The European Union widened its sanctions against Russia yesterday but refrained from imposing more hard-hitting economic or political sanctions on the country, pledging to await the outcome of the presidential elections on May 25th.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels added 13 new individuals and, for the first time, two companies to the list of individuals subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

The Department of Foreign Affairs also announced yesterday evening that Ireland is to send a team of 18 electoral observers to Ukraine as part of an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission to the country.

One Irish observer is already in Ukraine as part of a 100-strong team of long-term observers in place in the country in advance of the elections.


Speaking after yesterday's foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels, Minister for European Affairs Paschal Donohoe said it was vital that the election takes place in an "orderly legal and inclusive manner".

No discussion of "phase three" sanctions took place at the meeting, he added, noting that the European Commission was continuing to work on the preparation of deeper sanctions if needed. "What matters is the degree of unity shown to date. There was full agreement from everybody today that these 13 individuals and two companies should be put on the list in recognition of the situation in Ukraine. As has always been the case, this is a list, a plan that will be under continuous review," he said.

While the decision to target two companies for the first time marks a new stage in the EU’s response to the crisis in Ukraine, it still falls short of the measures taken by the US, which has already targeted 17 companies.

Future measures
In a joint declaration after the meeting, the foreign affairs council said that the EU would "pay particular attention to all parties' attitude and behaviour towards the holding of free and fair presidential elections when deciding about possible future measures."

Speaking at a separate event in Brussels organised by the think tank Carnegie Europe, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorsi said that third-stage sanctions needed to be "intelligently conceived". "Most sanctions in the history of diplomacy have not worked. We need to be careful not to hurt ourselves more, " he said.

Describing Russian president Vladimir Putin as "strategically bold and tactically flexible," the Polish foreign minister said he believed Mr Putin's preferred option would be for all of Ukraine to join the Eurasian Union.

Representatives of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” yesterday called on Russia to absorb the region into the Russian federation following Sunday’s referendum, in which over 90 per cent voted for self-rule according to the rebels. Kiev and the western community have dismissed the poll as farcical.

Following Mr Putin's call for separatists to postpone the weekend's referendum last Thursday, Moscow said yesterday it "respects the will of the population", adding that the results should be implemented "peacefully".

British foreign secretary William Hague said in Brussels yesterday, that the referendums have "zero credibility" echoing the comments of numerous EU foreign ministers.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent