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EU agrees to freeze Putin, Lavrov assets over Ukraine

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President Vladimir Putin of Russia, right, and Sergey Lavrov, his foreign minister, at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Photo: NYTimes)
The EU has agreed to freeze European assets linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over their decision to invade Ukraine, EU officials said on Friday.اضافة اعلان

"We are hitting Putin's system where it has to be hit, not only economically and financially, but also at the heart of its power," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said as she arrived for a meeting in Brussels with EU counterparts.

That is why "we now list also the president, Mr Putin, and foreign minister Lavrov" to a packet of fresh sanctions agreed by EU leaders overnight, she said.

The EU foreign ministers were to formally approve the sanctions, described as the harshest ever imposed by the bloc. 

They hammer Russia's financial, energy and transport sectors, curb the ability of Russians to keep large amounts of cash in EU banks, and greatly expand the number of Russians on the EU's list of individuals barred from entering the bloc's 27 countries and freezing any EU assets.

But the measures stopped short of kicking Russia out of the SWIFT messaging system used globally by banks to arrange transfers -- a major step that has been used to devastating effect against Iran.

While Ukraine's beleaguered government is lobbying ferociously for the EU to pull the trigger on a SWIFT ban for Russia, several EU countries -- most notably Germany, which has to pay Russia for natural gas -- are reluctant.

An asset freeze directed at Putin and Lavrov -- both said by anti-corruption campaigners to have amassed immense wealth -- has strong symbolic impact, but it was unclear how European authorities could identify their assets with legal certainty.

Two EU officials told AFP that Germany and Italy had been reluctant in the overnight summit to add the asset freeze against the two to the sanctions package.

- Hitting 'prime architects' -

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was "personally very much in favour" and other foreign ministers voiced support.

"If you're going to hit the Russian elite it makes sense to also look into making sure you touch the prime architects of this endeavour, of this darkness," Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said adding Putin and Lavrov's names "is absolutely appropriate, given who the key decision makers are to actually wage war on Ukraine."

The asset freeze on Putin and Lavrov was first reported by the Financial Times based on three sources who said neither of the Russians would be subject to an EU travel ban in order to keep diplomatic channels open.

But Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted angrily "let's not let the EU get away with pretending that assets bans on Putin and Lavrov can make up for real action".

He urged the bloc to "ban Russia from SWIFT".

Germany's chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said at the summit that his country preferred to keep the SWIFT option in reserve.

Baerbock said on Friday: "Words like agreement on SWIFT sound very tough, but in these moments you have to keep a cool head."

She argued that it would disproportionately hurt people like "a granddaughter living in Europe who wants to transfer money to her grandmother in Russia".

Those "responsible for the bloodshed" would have alternative ways of getting around a SWIFT ban, she said.

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