The EU should consider appointing a full-time commissioner to oversee the drafting and enforcing of sanctions so they can be used effectively against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Lithuanian foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, told the Guardian in an interview.
He was speaking in London as he met the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, on Wednesday to discuss the summer Nato summit in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, where the Baltic states will press for progress on Ukraine’s Nato application and for more to be done to defend Nato’s European flank.
He said he was frustrated with the number of exemptions to sanctions, saying “sometimes we derogate so much that we can call this a hole in a ship that can sink the ship”.
He cited the derogations from sanctions provided in September for coal, cement and wood on the basis that they were linked to protecting food security.
“There needs to be a clearer explanation of these derogations. In some cases there may be a link, but when we talk about cement, I am sorry, I cannot find the link with food security.”
While EU officials had been appointed to check how sanctions were being implemented, Landsbergis argued, “sanctions are becoming so important to the EU single market that we may need to go further and make sanctions policy a political portfolio”.
Discussions were under way on whether a sanctions commissioner portfolio should be proposed in the European parliamentary elections, he disclosed. Currently, sanctions decisions are made at the EU level, but enforcement is a nation-state responsibility.
Mairead McGuinness, European commissioner for financial stability, has previously reflected on the uneven sanctions implementation, saying officials were open to introducing an EU version of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the powerful US Treasury agency that spearheads enforcement of its sanctions.
Landsbergis also suggested that in Vilnius, Nato will have to discuss the future western security guarantees for Ukraine.
“We have a clear political request by Ukraine to join Nato. It is on the table. We might pretend that it is not there, or shelve it. But it’s not going away and we have to talk about it. So it’s an elephant in the room.”
At the weekend, Rishi Sunak said the summit should be used to chart possible security guarantees for Ukraine, a phrase that suggests the UK recognises there might be a lengthy interim period before Ukraine could join Nato. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, intends to attend the summit.
Landsbergis said the summit would also have to discuss Nato’s military-industrial capacity.
“If we want to be prepared for this new age, which is dawning upon us already, we have to admit that with aggressive Russia, we also need industrial might in order to help make sure that we are ready.” He said that at present, across the continent, factories were simply not on a wartime footing.
He argued that the Nato defence response in the Baltics after of the invasion had been ad hoc, and what was needed now was a permanent “enhanced security bubble”.
“Russia has announced it will upgrade its military stance from 10 brigades to 10 divisions on the eastern flank. What is our answer to that?” he asked.
Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, told the US president, Joe Biden, on Wednesday that the Baltic states required Nato deployment of additional military equipment, such as advanced Himars rockets or attack helicopters.
Landsbergis called for greater western clarity about the war’s objectives, saying: “We have to commit completely to the victory. I know this is not a world war, but historically there have been complete victories.”
Meeting in Brussels, the EU’s top diplomats failed to finalise the bloc’s 10th round of sanctions against Russia, which would ban the sale of more military-critical technologies.
Ambassadors are due to resume talks on Friday, the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, had told Zelenskiy the EU aimed to have the measures in place by 24 February.
Talks are understood to be stuck on the question of rubber trade with Russia. The latest package would ban the export of components for drones and helicopters and spare parts for vehicles, items found on the battlefields of Ukraine that had been missed off previous measures.
The search for consensus came as British, US and EU officials met on Thursday to share information about sanctions, amid a growing international push to curb apparent Russian attempts to dodge the restrictions with the help of its neighbours.
Following the start of western sanctions in February 2022, exports from Europe and the US to Russia fell sharply, but some trade has been rerouted to former Soviet states in the Caucasus and central Asia.
Western exports to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia have increased dramatically, with smaller but noticeable increases to Kazakhstan and Georgia, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Western officials fear this trade is being sent on to Russia, which has also seen a jump in imports from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates since the war began.
Officials are studying on a case-by-case basis how to prevent sanctions dodging, by a mix of persuasion or threats to cut market access.
Earlier this week 10 EU countries called for a crackdown on Russia’s attempts to source military parts from front companies in neighbouring countries, with threats to cut off access to the EU market to firms or individuals involved in such trade.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Rankin in Brussels