On February 24, Russia has launched a barbaric invasion of Ukraine on multiple fronts from Belarus, Russia and the occupied Crimea. Russia violated international law once more, ignoring international calls for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and unleashed one of the largest wars since World War II. Russia’s imperialist goals endanger not only the peace and security of Ukraine, but also the peace and security of Europe and the world as a whole. During his national address, Ukraine’s courageous president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, declared that a “new iron curtain” is falling, cutting Russia off from the “civilised world”.
First and foremost, it should be noted that Russia’s brutal act of war has significantly damaged European peace and stability. For this reason, the European Union reacted quickly to Russia’s aggressive attempt to destabilize Ukraine, undermining its democracy and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. On February 23, when Russia declared Donetsk and Luhansk to be independent entities, sanctions were imposed on 351 Russian State Duma members who voted in favor of an appeal to President Putin to recognize the independence of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk “republics,” as well as an additional 27 individuals who have played a role in undermining or threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence. Government decision-makers, oligarchs and businessmen, military officials, and individuals who spread Russian disinformation are among those sanctioned. Furthermore, the European Council restricted economic relations with occupied Donetsk and Luhansk in order to ensure that those responsible for violations of international law bear the full brunt of the consequences of their barbaric actions. This decision means that goods will be prohibited from being imported and exported, trade and investment will be severely restricted, and tourism support will be strictly prohibited in the occupied territories. The European Council prohibited financing the Russian Federation, its government, and the Central Bank on this day. This decision will be the primary impediment to the Russian government’s access to the financial markets and services of the European Union.
The European Council held special meetings on February 24, when Russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine. During the meeting, the Russian aggression was strongly condemned, and the European Commission demanded an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of forces and military equipment from Ukraine, full respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law, and an end to anti-Ukraine propaganda. The European Council agreed with further punitive measures against Russia. These sanctions cover: 1) the energy and transportation sector, 2) the financial sector, 3) dual-use products, 4) export control and export financing, 5) visa-related policies, 6) further listings of Russian individuals. On this day, the European Council denounced Belarus’ participation in the war and promised to work on new economic sanctions against the country. Furthermore, the European Council reaffirmed its complete solidarity with Ukraine and recognized Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic ambitions once more.
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, and Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, were sanctioned by the European Council on February 25. The European Council decided to freeze the assets of the Russian President and Foreign Minister. Additionally, the European Council decided to impose punitive measures on the members of the National Security Council, who supported the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine as the independent entities. According to the European Council, punitive measures will also be imposed on the remaining members of the Russian State Duma who ratified the Russian Federation’s government decision on the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the two entities.
The majority of the details of the previous day’s sanctions were explained in greater depth. Regarding the financial sector, it should be noted that the European Council intended to cut Russia from the most important financial markets and limit the financial flows from Russia to the European Union, by restricting the acceptance of deposits from Russian citizens or residents in excess of a certain amount, the holding of Russian clients’ accounts by EU Central Securities Depositories, and the sale of euro-denominated securities to Russian clients. Regarding this sector, it should be also highlighted that the punitive measures will target 70 per cent of Russian banking markets and the country’s main companies (Including the defense sector). According to the European Council, this sanction will soar Russia’s borrowing costs, boost inflation, and decimate the country’s industrial base over time. Furthermore, steps are being taken to prevent the Russian elite’s fortunes from being hidden in European safe places.
Regarding the energy sector, it should be underlined that specific goods and technologies in oil refining will be outlawed from being sold, delivered, or transferred to the Russian Federation, and related services will be also strictly limited. The European Council commented also on the transportation sector, the EU decided to impose an export ban on goods and technology used in the aviation and space industries. The provision of related technical and financial assistance will also be prohibited by the EU.
According to the European Council, this prohibition on the sale of all spare parts, aircrafts and equipment to Russian airlines will degrade one of the country’s most important economic sectors drastically.
Moreover, the European Council also imposed technology sanctions and restricted the export of goods that are critical to Russia’s defense and security sectors. Finally, the European Council also addressed visa issues. Russian diplomats, officials, and businessmen will no longer be eligible for visa-free travel to the European Union, according to the European Council’s decisions.
On February 28, the European Council adopted new sanctions. First, the Council approved two support initiatives under the European Peace Facility (EPF) that will aid the Ukrainian Armed Forces to enhance their abilities and strength in order to defend the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty. To say it in a broad way, the assistance measures, worth a total of EUR 500 million, will fund the equipment and other supplies to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, including lethal equipment for the first time in the history of European Union. Secondly, a major decision on aviation was also made by the European Council. Any airplane owned by Russian airlines will be refused to land, take off, or fly over the European Union territories.
On March 2, one of the most severe economic sanctions was imposed against Russia. The following Russian banks cut off from the SWIFT system: Novikombank, Bank Otkritie, Promsvyazbank, Sovcombank, Rossiya Bank, VNESHECONOMBANK (VEB), and VTB BANK. The European Council has also outlawed any kind of participation in Russian Direct Investment Fund-funded projects.
The most recent sanction targeted Russia’s propagandist media outlets, Sputnik and Russia Today. These media channels are under direct control of the Russian Federation and are the main propagandist machines for Russia to spread disinformation, and destabilize the neighboring countries. Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine was actively justified by these media sources. To respond to the threats emanating from these media channels and to hold them accountable for their actions against Ukraine and other countries, the European Union suspended Sputnik’s and Russia Today’s broadcasting activities immediately.