Ukraine: EU sanctions should target ‘ordinary’ Russians
Future EU sanctions should deliberately hurt "ordinary Russians" instead of sparing them, Ukraine says after one year of horrific crimes.
The EU’s 10th package of sanctions is to be finally agreed in Brussels on Friday morning (24 February), following a last-minute dispute between Germany and Italy versus Poland on Russian rubber-import quotas.
Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the UK, and the US are also expected to unveil new sanctions the same day to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
As in previous rounds, the new EU measures are meant to cause pain for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s regime — its officials, corporations, and military.
"EU sanctions do not target a country or population ... the EU makes every effort to minimise adverse consequences for the civilian population," EU doctrine says.
But if that sounds like the right approach in Brussels, EU diplomats should try listening to the same wire intercepts as Vladyslav Vlasiuk, an aide to Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky, specialising in sanctions policy.
"It’s really different when you’re listening to a phone conversation between a [Russian] soldier and his family and a wife of that soldier is advising him to kill more Ukrainians, including children," Vlasiuk told press in Brussels on Thursday.
"We have a lot of these reports in the possession of our security services and we just don’t see the point of letting those Russians into EU countries for vacations," he said.
"We’re seeing the world a bit more black and white," he added.
Ukraine’s prosecutor has already documented 16,000 war crimes, Vlasiuk noted.
In some wire intercepts, Russian military officers "ordered" soldiers to rape Ukrainian children, Vlasiuk said. In other cases, Russian soldiers did it on their own initiative. "They’re worse than animals," Vlasiuk said.
There are no anti-war protests in Russia due to Putin’s repression.
But the Russian diaspora, including the 1 million or so Russians who fled mobilisation to free countries last year, is also silent — or worse, Vlasiuk said.
"On the contrary, we see pro-war rallies run by Russian [expatriates], saying: ‘Sanctions don’t work. The war should continue. The West is rotten," he said.
The prevailing mood includes Russian social-media influencers, such as Yana Rudkovskaya, he noted.
Rudkovskaya, who publicly backs Putin, was invited by French fashion label Dior to the opening of a new shop in Paris in January and mocked EU sanctions in her online posts.
"It’s irritating", Vlasiuk said.
Part of the problem was Putin’s propaganda, he added. "If there were no Russian propaganda, there wouldn’t be a war of this scale," he said.
But whatever the reasons for it, "according to our estimates, about 80 percent of Russian people support Putin’s regime and what he’s doing," Vlasiuk said.
"That’s why we believe in more sanctions against Russians, including those you call ‘ordinary Russians’," he added.
EU countries, last year, restricted Russian tourist visas, but only a handful of member states have stopped issuing them.
The EU is also opting not to ban imports of Russian diamonds or to blacklist its Rosatom nuclear firm in the one-year anniversary sanctions, despite Ukraine’s requests.
But the 10th package was still meaningful, Vlasiuk said, because it would help stop Western technology ending up in Russian and Iranian weapons.
Vlasiuk showed photos of arms components, their serial numbers, and countries of origin, taken by Ukrainian intelligence from captured Russian materiel.
"We see what’s inside, see the components, and share this information with our EU partners. We’ve been doing it since November and I can see now in the sanctions coming many suggestions made by us," he said.
Captured items included Austrian-made rotor engines in Iranian UAVs, he added.
Meanwhile, ordinary Ukrainians won’t mind if Russian diamonds or Rosatom were left out for now, because no one cares about technical details in a war-zone, Vlasiuk said.
"Compared to what Ukrainian people have been suffering — it’s a different narrative for us. For us, we’re losing lives," he said.
Diamonds, Rosatom, and more Russian oligarchs are "going to come in the next [sanctions] package or the package after that," he predicted, with no end to the war in sight.
"For us, this is just a matter of time — a year ago, no one would have believed the EU would stop buying Russian gas and impose a ban on Russian oil products, but here we go," Vlasiuk said, referring to previous EU sanctions imposed in 2022.