|This photograph taken on February 24, 2022 shows smoke rising near the town of Hostomel and the Antonov Airport, in northwest Kyiv. — AFP/VNA Photo|
BRUSSELS — EU leaders wrapped up an emergency summit early on Friday with agreement to punish Moscow for sending troops to Ukraine by imposing "severe" sanctions targeting its financial, energy and transport sectors.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a media conference afterwards they "will have maximum impact on the Russian economy and the political elite".
The summit started late Thursday, the day Russia started blasting military targets and sending tanks and paratroopers into its pro-Western neighbour Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the gathering by videolink, telling European presidents and prime ministers that "he does not know if he will be able to speak with us another time," Luxembourg's leader Xavier Bettel recounted as he left.
Von der Leyen said the packet of sanctions – the second adopted this week by the EU – is "targeting 70 per cent of the Russian banking market, but also key state-owned companies including the field of defence".
She did not go into details, but a list drawn up by her commission, seen by AFP, proposed adding two Russian private banks – Alfa Bank and Bank Otkritie – to entities sanctioned by the EU.
It also called for Russians to be prohibited from putting deposits over 100,000 euros ($112,000) in EU banks or from purchasing euro-denominated securities.
Von der Leyen said the measures "will increase Russia's borrowing costs, raise inflation and gradually erode Russia's industrial base".
Energy sector targets of the sanctions included an export ban on equipment and technology Russia needs to upgrade its oil refineries.
An export ban on aircraft and plane parts to Russian airlines would also "degrade a key sector of Russia's economy and the country's connectivity," von der Leyen said.
"The fourth point is we are limiting Russia's access to crucial technology – we will hit Russia's access to important technologies it needs to build a prosperous future such as semiconductors or cutting edge technologies," she said.
"And finally, on visas, diplomats and related groups and business people will no longer have privileged access to the European Union."
Russia to take tough measures in response
In response to EU’s announcement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that Russia will take tough measures in response to the European Union’s sanctions over Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
"The EU’s continuing unfriendly steps against Russia and Russia’s fraternal DPR and LPR will not be able to stop the progressive development of our states and the provision of assistance to them. In accordance with the principle of reciprocity, which is fundamental to international law, we will take tough response measures," the statement said.
"Instead of analyzing what happened and critically re-evaluating their role in the situation in the DPR and LPR, the EU has resorted to the sanctions approach mistakenly believing that they are an effective way forward," the ministry noted, adding that "no one authorized the EU to address the problems of war and peace in Europe," and that "only the UN Security Council has this international legal prerogative."
"Our repeated messages to Kiev and its Western handlers about the need to stop the violence in Donbass and to implement the Minsk Package of Measures have fallen on deaf ears. For them, the people of the DPR and LPR are just a bargaining chip. Even after Russia recognized the independence of these republics, the shelling not only did not stop, but even intensified," according to the statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address on Thursday morning that in response to a request by the heads of the Donbass republics he had made a decision to carry out a special military operation. The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had no plans of occupying Ukrainian territories.
When clarifying the developments unfolding, the Russian Defense Ministry reassured that Russian troops are not targeting Ukrainian cities, but are limited to surgically striking and incapacitating Ukrainian military infrastructure. There are no threats whatsoever to the civilian population.
The latest sanctions will come into effect once legal texts are drawn up that are then formally approved by member states' foreign ministers and published in the EU's official journal.
That was expected to happen as early as Friday or Saturday.
The leaders also discussed how to ramp up political, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
While EU agreement on the outline of the sanctions was rapid, there were clear divisions over the option of kicking Russia out of the SWIFT network that the world's banks use to securely send messages in order to carry out transactions.
Zelensky has urged the West to use that lever, which has already been implemented to devastating effect against Iran's banking sector.
But US President Joe Biden, speaking in Washington as the EU summit started, said: "It is always an option but right now that's not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take."
That assessment was borne out by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who suggested as he arrived for the summit that SWIFT and other measures should be kept "for a situation where it might be necessary, for other things".
Other EU leaders, though, chafed at that stance.
"Talk is cheap... we have to be united around massive sanctions, severe sanctions," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
Latvia's prime minister, Krisjanis Karins, said: "SWIFT, I think it's the very right direction, I think we should go in that direction", but only if other jurisdictions outside Europe also adopted that tactic. —AFP/TASS