A group of 10 EU member states have called for a crackdown on Russia’s attempts to source military parts through front companies in neighbouring countries, thereby evading western sanctions.
The 10 countries, which include France, Germany, Italy and the Baltic states, write that “2023 must be the year of success in countering circumvention”, warning that public support and international legitimacy of sanctions could wane if they are deemed ineffective.
In a paper seen by the Guardian, the group calls for a tighter focus on western components used in Russian weaponry and military equipment – parts that are not easily replaced and could disrupt Russia’s military production if they were to disappear. “We see that Russia is transitioning into a full-on military economy with a view to sustaining its war efforts,” they write. “Alternative supply chains are created through the use of front companies and intermediates in the circle of countries around Russia.”
The paper continues: “Special focus should be put on western components that are crucial to the Russian military industry … A small disruption of these production chains therefore quickly has a significant impact in the Russian ability to produce weapons and military equipment.”
The group’s proposals to crackdown on sanctions evasion include issuing warnings to individuals and companies in non-EU countries that helping Russia risks “severe consequences for their access to the internal market”. Other proposals include creating a watchlist of risky companies and sectors, as well as diplomatic coordination on how to deal with non-EU countries helping Russia evade sanctions.
This month the US imposed sanctions on 22 individuals and companies it accused of being part of a global network helping Russia evade sanctions. The companies were based in the EU member states Cyprus and Bulgaria, as well as Singapore and Israel.
The move to tighten sanctions comes as Ukraine’s western allies seek to show their support before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion on Friday.
At the UN general assembly in New York, a debate was due to begin on Wednesday on a Ukrainian-drafted resolution calling for a Russian withdrawal and a cessation of hostilities. The resolution, co-sponsored by at least 70 countries, is intended as an alternative to peace proposals for an immediate ceasefire that would lock in the territorial gains Russia has made from its invasion.
It is the latest in a series of tests of strength at the UN general assembly, all of which Ukraine has won overwhelmingly. Ukrainian, US and European officials said they expected the resolution to win the support of over 130 of the 193 UN member states, with about 50 states abstaining, absenting themselves, or unable to vote due to unpaid UN membership dues. At a previous vote on the legality of the war in October, only Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria voted with Russia.
The resolution reaffirms the UN body’s “commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”. It calls for Russia to “immediately, completely, and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine” and for “a cessation of hostilities”.
The resolution also calls for legal accountability for war crimes. The UN security council will hold a ministerial meeting to mark the anniversary of the full-scale invasion on Friday.
EU leaders will issue a resolution declaring their “full solidarity with Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes”, according to a draft. The text will also repeat that “Ukraine is part of the European family” and has become a candidate for EU membership.
“We will continue to support Ukraine in humanitarian, financial and military terms,” it states.
The EU’s most senior diplomats meeting in Brussels on Wednesday were unable to agree the 10th round of sanctions against Russia, promised to be ready by the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
Talks are due to resume on Thursday afternoon, as diplomatic sources expressed optimism that a deal would be reached before Friday’s anniversary.
EU officials have called for a ban on technology to Russia worth €11bn to further weaken the Kremlin’s war effort, targeting electronic components for drones and helicopters, spare parts for trucks and jet engines and other items that were missed off previous sanctions lists. The latest proposals will also add more Russians and Ukrainians working for Russia in the occupied territories to the sanctions lists, including senior political and military leaders, judges and propagandists.
Hungary is understood to be seeking to remove some names from the list, while officials have also raised legal concerns about some individuals. Anyone can sue the EU in the European court of justice if they believe they have been unfairly hit by sanctions, so officials aim to make the listings as watertight as possible.
Poland is attempting to ban the import of Russian diamonds, a proposal that has been thrown out several times already.
Attending the meeting of EU diplomats on Wednesday, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Yulia Svyrydenko renewed Kyiv’s push to impose sanctions on Russia’s nuclear industry, targeting the state monopoly Rosatom. But the EU has already ruled out this step, which Hungary, a Rosatom client, has threatened to veto.
Despite the last-minute wrangling, insiders expect a deal. One diplomat said they were confident of an agreement on Thursday, while a second noted “the pressure of getting something done [before 24 February] is so big”.