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EU targets countries that help Russia avoid sanctions


Brussels — A senior European Union official on Tuesday urged the 27 member countries to take trade action against countries that help the Kremlin circumvent the bloc’s sanctions on Russia, prompting a warning from China that it would retaliate if it was targeted.

During a visit to Kyiv, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the measures – which would set a new precedent for EU action – should be part of a new round of sanctions against Russia which the member countries are discussing.

“We have recently seen a growth in very unusual trade flows across the European Union and some third countries. These goods then end up in Russia,” von der Leyen said, alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

She did not name the countries, but EU officials have raised concerns about certain flows of goods through China and Iran for some time.

“If we find that goods are leaving the European Union to third countries and then end up in Russia, we could propose to member states to sanction these goods,” von der Leyen told reporters.

All 27 members must approve any sanction unanimously. In recent months, the von der Leyen commission has become tasked with proposing sanctions measures to be taken, leaving member countries to settle their disputes, sometimes over several weeks.

“This tool will be a last resort and it will be used with caution after a very diligent risk analysis and after approval by EU member states. But there should be no doubt that we are working against the circumvention of sanctions,” she said.

China’s foreign minister said Beijing would react strongly if the EU takes action against Chinese companies doing legitimate business in Russia.

Speaking after a meeting with his German counterpart in Berlin, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said Beijing has laws banning arms shipments to crisis regions. At the same time, he insisted that “exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and Russian enterprises” should not be hindered.

“We are strictly against some countries using their own national laws, their long-armed jurisdiction, to impose unilateral sanctions against China,” Qin said, according to an official interpreter. “In such a case, we would also react strongly to this and defend the legitimate interests of our country and our companies.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed that any sanctions would target specific companies, not countries, that supply Russian arms makers with critical components, including so-called dual-use goods.

“It’s not directed against any particular country, but rather against these sanctioned goods,” she told reporters in Berlin. “But we expect everyone, including China, to pressure their companies accordingly.”

The EU has imposed 10 rounds of sanctions on Russia since President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine on February 24. Banks, businesses and markets have been affected, even parts of the sensitive energy sector. More than 1,000 civil servants are subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

A lot of work has gone into filling in the gaps so that assets vital to Putin’s war effort don’t slip through. However, this is the first time that plans have been announced to target trade via other countries, outside of sanctions against Iranians allegedly supplying drones to Russia.

Past sanctions were agreed in just a few months – extremely quickly for the EU. But new measures are becoming increasingly difficult to approve because they harm the economic and political interests of some member countries even as they target the Kremlin.


Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.