EU imposes asset freezes and travel bans on Russia

Reuters, BRUSSELS and KIEV

Wed, Apr 30, 2014 - Page 1

The EU yesterday broadened sanctions on Russia, imposing asset freezes and visa bans on 15 Russian officials and Ukrainian rebel leaders, but many EU states are wary of going further and applying more intense economic pressure on Russia.

The EU targeted a number of high-ranking Russian officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and General Valery Gerasimov and pro-Russian separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine, but steered clear of sanctions on business leaders.

The decision brings to 48 the number of people that the EU has put under sanctions for actions it says have undermined Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said developments in eastern Ukraine ran counter to the agreement reached by Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU in Geneva earlier this month aimed at defusing the crisis.

“I call on Russia to take now concrete action in support of the Geneva accord,” she said in a statement.

Russia said the EU should be ashamed of itself for “doing Washington’s bidding” by punishing Moscow with sanctions and the self-declared mayor of a separatist-held town in eastern Ukraine said he would discuss the release of detained military observers with the West only if the EU dropped sanctions against rebel leaders.

EU ambassadors are to meet again today in Brussels to discuss Ukraine and will consider adding more names to the sanctions list, diplomats said.

They will also look at broadening the legal basis of EU sanctions to permit the bloc to target companies, not just individuals.

Meanwhile, hundreds of pro-Russian separatists stormed the regional government headquarters in the eastern city of Luhansk, unopposed by police, and the Ukrainian government said the separatists also planned to seize the local television center.

The government in Kiev has all but lost control of its police forces in parts of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian activists have seized buildings in the region’s second-biggest city of Donetsk and several smaller towns.

“The regional leadership does not control its police force,” said Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. “The local police did nothing.”

In other developments, the US and Britain yesterday said they were determined to track down billions of dollars of Ukrainian assets allegedly looted under the regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

US Attorney General Eric Holder and British Home Secretary Theresa May told an international conference on asset recovery that those responsible would be held accountable.

“There should be no mistake, we are determined in our efforts to be successful,” Holder told a press conference in London at the start of the two-day forum.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Oleh Makhnitskyi told the forum that Kiev has already identified stolen assets of at least 35 billion Ukrainian hryvnias (US$3 billion), but he expects the eventual total to amount to tens of billions of dollars.

Additional reporting by AFP