After Thursday night’s EU Council summit (EUCO), it was widely reported that the second package of sanctions against Russia would not include certain measures that Ukraine, and also the European Parliament, had been calling for.
Most notably, the request to suspend the Russian Federation from Swift, the society that facilitates global financial transactions between banks, was reportedly opposed by Germany, Cyprus and Hungary.
With the publication of the measures by the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on Friday afternoon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s concerns that the EU’s new sanctions package would not be as strong as he had hoped were confirmed.
However, Zelenskiy received support from veteran MEP Guy Verhofstadt (BE, Renew), a former Belgian prime minister, who called for more material support for Ukraine’s defence forces.
The president of the Parliament’s biggest political group, Manfred Weber (DE, EPP) also commented critically on the basis of the EUCO’s reported outcome on Friday.
German Greens/EFA Group MEP Damian Boeselager criticised his home country for its stance but suggested an initiative at European level to help bring Berlin on board for tougher sanctions.
FAC ministers stressed, however, that the sanctions were strong, which in the words of Romania’s Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu, were ”robust, comprehensive and with massive and severe consequences"., It was also revealed that the European Commission had been tasked to work on further punitive measures.
On Thursday evening, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee and its Subcommittee on Defence (SEDE) had convened to hear from the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell as well as members of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.
The MEPs’ Ukrainian colleagues provided a blunt report on the situation facing them and had a clear message and demands.
I believed that the EU, as a good neighbour, would probably have those sanctions ready by six or seven am, which had already been pre-agreed, but fifteen hours later we are still waiting for the decision to be taken”.
Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Verkhovna Rada MP
Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, chair of the Committee on European Integration, told the meeting: “We all woke up at five o’clock this morning to the blasts and shelling that we heard near our homes”.
She said that she believed then the EU, “as a good neighbour, would probably have those sanctions ready by six or seven am, which had already been pre-agreed”, but this had not been happening and “fifteen hours later we are still waiting for the decision to be taken”.
Oleksandr Merezhko, Chair of the Verkhovna Rada’s Foreign Affairs Committee admitted that “we don’t know what will happen next; where we will be in a few days’ time or whether we will still be alive or not”.
Vadym Halaichuk, Co-chair of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, pleaded: “We beg you to act very quickly. The whole idea of Ukraine’s European integration is at stake. It is extremely important that the EU starts speaking with one voice”.
Please use all the influence that you have over those Member States that were named and who are blocking something that we believe would be very painful for Russia”
Vadym Halaichuk, Verkhovna Rada MP
Klympush-Tsintsadze addressed the state of negotiations about the second sanctions package in the European Council: “We are hearing that such countries as Germany, Cyprus, Hungary and Italy are doubting whether Russia could be cut off from Swift.”
Arguing that this measure would be necessary to make the sanctions strong enough, she added that “not messages, not words, not support, not condemnation – but real, real action against the Russian Federation, against the aggressor that has been lying to the whole world that is killing our citizens, our kids today” were needed.
Regarding Swift, Halaichuk called on MEPs to “use all the influence that you have over those Member States that were named and who are blocking something that we believe would be very painful for Russia”.
They added the immediate installation of a no-fly zone over Ukraine to the measures needed to deter Russia, something that “should have been done early on today when we were woken up by explosions”, Halaichuk said.
With few exceptions, MEPs agreed with their Ukrainian colleagues, notably on Russia’s Swift suspension.
The European Parliament’s S&D Group tweeted the comments of Sven Mikser, Vice-chair of the Delegation for relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and a former Estonian Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister, after the meeting:
Parliament’s Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, Witold Waszczykowski (PL, ECR), meanwhile conceded that “For 20 years we were entertaining appeasement illusions vis-à-vis Putin” and called for a twofold approach of condemnation and punishment of Russia as well as a positive perspective for Ukrainians, including that of EU membership.
Among the former he also called for Russia’s exclusion in prestigious international sports and cultural events like “the Champions’ League and the Eurovision Song Contest”.
Late on Friday afternoon, F1, the body running Formula 1 racing announced that the Russian Grand Prix, due to take place on 25 September in Sochi, had been cancelled, as it was “impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances".