Commanders, ministers and bank chiefs: The EU goes after Putin’s closest circle

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The EU has sanctioned, among others: Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (left); spokesperson Maria Zakharova (centre) and commander Igor Osipov (right).

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The European Union is hitting Vladimir Putin’s closest circle in a new round of sanctions that come barely 48 hours after the Russian president recognised the breakaway provinces of Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, as independent territories, triggering international condemnation and fears of an imminent invasion.

The list of targets includes Russia’s defence minister, Putin’s chief of staff, the foreign ministry spokesperson and several army commanders, Euronews can confirm.

In total, 27 high-ranking individuals and entities will be punished.

They will all be subject to asset freezes: EU-based banks will be prohibited from making funds available to them, although this will depend on the degree of cooperation from the financial entities.

The targets are also being slapped with travels bans, which means they are banned from entering or passing through EU territory.

The move is believed to be one of the strongest retaliatory reactions the EU has ever take against the Russian Federation, a country that provides 40% of the bloc’s gas supplies.

“This package of sanctions will hurt Russia, and it will hurt a lot, said Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, on Tuesday afternoon after the political agreement was reached.

Borrell confirmed Putin himself has been excluded from the package. He also said the bloc could have gone further in its response but compromises had to be made to reach unanimity.

The final details were unveiled on Wednesday afternoon after putting the finishing touches.

The penalties will enter into force once they are published in the EU’s official journal. All member states will be required to comply with the measures.

Army, banks and oligarchs

The latest raft of sanctions presents a pronounced military component, reflecting the high and unpredictable stakes of the border standoff.

The bloc wants to directly punish those believed to be in charge of the destabilisation campaign against Ukraine, which has resulted in over 150,000 troops encircling the country and some already entering Donetsk and Luhansk on Putin’s personal orders.

Euronews can confirm that Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister; Igor Osipov, commander-in-chief of the Black Sea Fleet; Sergei Surovikin, commander-in-chief of Russian Aerospace Forces; and Oleg Salyukov, commander-in-chief of the Russian Ground Forces have all been targeted.

Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino, is also singled-out for his role in the conflict.

In a bid to cut off the economic support behind Russia’s military might, the EU has also targeted high-ranking officials linked to the country’s financial and banking system, such as Dmitry Grigorenko, Russia’s deputy prime minister and chair of the supervisory council of the state-owned VTB bank, and Igor Shuvalov, chairman of the state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB).

Also listed is Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, sometimes called “Putin’s chef” due to his extensive network of restaurants. The bloc claims Prigozhin is one of the main financial backers behind the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organisation made up of mercenaries, and the Internet Research Agency.

Based in Saint Petersburg, the Internet Research Agency conducts online campaigns that advance Russia’s political agenda and influence public opinion around the world. The IRA has been accused of interfering in the US elections and spreading anti-Ukrainian narratives.

In addition to this, the EU is going after communication officials seen as “propagandists”, such as Maria Zakharova, current spokesperson of the foreign affairs ministry, and Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the state-controlled RT channel.

Besides this group of 27 targets, the EU is also backlisting all the 351 Duma lawmakers who voted in favour of recognising Donetsk and Luhansk as independent.

The full package also introduces limits on the Russian state’s ability to raise funds in the EU capital markets and an import ban on goods coming from the separatist regions.

The sanctions regime been presented as a “first step” in the EU’s response to the latest escalations and has been designed in coordination with the United States. EU officials had previously said they have prepared “unprecedented” penalties in case of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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