EU to hit Putin’s defense minister and chief of staff with sanctions

Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff and his defense minister are set to be blacklisted by the EU as part of the bloc’s first round of sanctions against Russia for its renewed aggression against Ukraine.

Anton Vaino, chief of staff in Putin’s presidential executive office, and Sergei Shoigu, defense minister, are among 27 people and entities named in a list of restrictive measures agreed by the EU’s member states seen by the Financial Times and set to be published on Wednesday .

Sanctions are also set to be imposed on two of Russia’s deputy prime ministers for their work in “threaten[ing] the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine ”, and the heads of Russia’s navy, army and air force, according to the documents.

The EU’s move against Vaino and Shoigu, who are members of Russia’s powerful security council, is taking the bloc’s Ukraine-related sanctions to Putin’s inner circle of advisers. The sanctions involve an asset freeze and a ban on travel within the EU.

The measures are a first step by the EU to punish Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine, with policymakers warning they are ready to increase pressure on leading Russian business figures and the country’s wider economy if Putin embarks on a full invasion of Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday stressed that she did not consider that Russia had yet engaged in a “military invasion” but that it was guilty of a serious breach of international law. However, she added: “If there is any further military action against Ukraine there will be a massive and robust second package that is coming.”

She told CNN: “Russia will have to pay a price and it is President Putin who will have to explain to his people why he is putting this enormous price on them.”

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT, the Kremlin-funded English language TV channel that broadcasts outside Russia, is on the sanctions list for having “promoted a positive attitude to. . . the actions of separatists in Donbas ”. Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent and influential Russian TV news anchor, and Maria Zakharova, foreign ministry spokeswoman, will also be hit with sanctions.

The EU’s foreign policy arm warned this week of a wave of Russian state-backed propaganda targeting the bloc.

The EU sanctions will also apply to three banks with operations in the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist-held territories – VEB, Promsvyazbank and Bank Rossiya, according to the list.

While VTB Bank, Russia’s second-largest by assets, was not included on the list of lenders to be put under sanctions, its president, Andrei Kostin, and deputy president, Denis Bortnikov, were on the list of individuals to be placed under sanctions. Bortnikov’s father is the head of Russia’s FSB spy service.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is already in the EU’s Libya-related sanctions for his alleged links to the mercenary Wagner group, is included in the new list – alongside his mother and wife – for his business links to Crimea and the occupied areas of eastern Ukraine.

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