On Monday 17 March 2014 the Council of the European Union (EU Council) adopted sanctions against 21 Russian and Ukrainian individuals. This followed the holding, on 16 March 2014, of the referendum vote of Crimea to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, an outcome that the EU does not recognise and has held to be illegal. In a similar move, the United States has adopted sanctions against 11 Russian and Ukrainian nationals.
The sanctions have been introduced against Russian and Ukrainian individuals whom the EU Council has identified as “responsible for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, including actions on the future status of any part of the territory which are contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution.” Amongst the persons targeted by the measures are several senior Russian military figures who have been involved in the operation in Crimea, including Aleksandr Vitko, commander of the Black Sea fleet, Anatoliy Sidorov, commander of Russia’s western military district, and Aleksandr Galkin, commander of Russia’s southern military district. A copy of the full list can be found at eur-lex.europa.eu.
The sanctions entered into force on 17 March 2014. The EU Council’s decision directs that “all funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled by” the persons identified on the sanction list are to be frozen and that “no funds or economic resources shall be made available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of” such persons. The sanctions effectively freeze any assets held by the listed individuals within the European Union member states. In addition, the EU Council has placed an obligation on all member states to take “the necessary measures to prevent the entry into, or transit through, their territories of” the listed individuals. The persons subject to the restrictive measures include any person, entity or body associated with them.
The EU Council has warned that any further steps by Russia to destabilise the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional economic consequences. The European Union has taken a strong stance against the current events relating to Ukraine and has expressed its commitment to provide economic and financial support to Ukraine. In addition to an assistance package, which it is looking to implement rapidly, the European Commission has also announced that it would temporarily remove customs duties on Ukrainian exports to the European Union.
It is unclear what the effect of those sanctions will be in practice, with the travel ban and asset freeze having been seen by many as mostly symbolic. However, with Russian President Vladimir Putin recognising Crimea as an independent state within hours of the sanctions being imposed and his announcement that he will be accepting the Republic of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, there is a risk that the diplomatic crisis is to escalate yet further and that additional sanctions will be imposed in the near future that may affect Russian business professionals.