The most likely first targets of a daring new EU proposal to block Russia from violating sanctions by importing the high-tech components necessary to wage war through its neighbors are Central Asian nations like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
In an effort to weaken President Vladimir Putin's military machine, the EU is nearing the adoption of its eleventh set of sanctions against Russia, and for the first time, its plan will include countermeasures against nations that assist Moscow in evading Brussels' trade embargo. The countries most frequently attributed with giving Russia a financial lifeline are China and Turkey, but EU diplomats warned that Ankara and Beijing were not their immediate targets and that taking action against such important geostrategic trading partners ran the risk of backfiring.
Instead, according to three EU diplomats, the goal is that the EU's upcoming suggestions for circumventing sanctions will persuade Central Asian states to follow suit. Tuesday, when Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, travels to Kiev to observe Europe Day, the entire eleventh sanctions package could be published.
In recent weeks, EU sanctions envoy David O'Sullivan visited Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan in an effort to determine the extent of sanctions evasion.
The Commission aims to target "persons and entities circumventing the Union’s restrictive measures by activities which have the aim or result of frustrating the prohibitions in those measures. This concerns, for example, companies established in third countries, which obtain goods subject to restrictions from companies established in the Union and which are then supplied to Russia, directly or through intermediaries," according to the proposal for the 11th package.
Notably, the two annexes to the plan do not specify any specific nations or goods; rather, it is up to the EU member states to decide. The 11th sanctions package now includes designations for 72 people and 31 entities in addition to the new proposal.
The main goal of this new EU policy would be to prevent European businesses from exporting sensitive goods to a country that borders Russia in the event that it were to be circumvented. The countries from which they originate would be listed after the sensitive products in the sanctions in order to prevent circumvention.
On Wednesday, ambassadors from the EU will share their initial thoughts on the proposal. A deal on the new package is not anticipated by EU diplomats until the following week or maybe the week after. The EU embassies in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan did not immediately respond.
But that does not guarantee that the anti-circumvention measures will be approved quickly.
A number of EU nations worry that Brussels' idea might open a Pandora's box. The action creates the possibility that other nations, like Turkey or China, could be the next in line for attack by establishing the notion that countries who violate EU sanctions, whether intentionally or unintentionally, could be targeted.
A diplomat from the EU who wanted a harsher stance on the more significant targets said he was "hoping for a loaded gun on the table, but right now the gun isn't even loaded."
The U.S. has been pressuring Brussels to adopt a more confrontational stance toward China, but the EU is hesitant to antagonize Beijing even more.
Confronting Turkey is also viewed as posing a significant political risk because of its history of serving as a buffer between the EU and the Middle East, its volatile political climate as it approaches this weekend's election, and its influence over issues like migration.
While the Commission is of the opinion that the threat of economic sanctions on Central Asian nations will be sufficient to alter their behavior, one diplomat said that Europe "should be sure we are ready to follow through" before issuing such a threat. Another diplomat stated that Brussels must strike a compromise between enforcing sanctions and preserving business ties with significant trading partners like Turkey or China.
Beijing had previously stated on Monday that it will vehemently oppose a different EU proposal in the 11th round of sanctions that targets seven Chinese companies suspected of shipping illegal items to Russia either directly or through intermediaries. The suggested, but as of yet unapproved, broader circumvention action to compile a list of specific products that should not be sold from Europe to businesses in countries bordering Russia is distinct from this direct targeting of the seven enterprises.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, advised the EU against moving forward. "We urge the EU not to go on this wrong path, otherwise China will take firm actions to safeguard our legitimate and lawful interests," he warned.
The Commission is optimistic that the circumvention package will allow EU nations ample leeway to put the breaks on if a proposed policy is deemed to be too politically sensitive.
Any decision to include a good or country would have to be authorized by all 27 EU capitals under the proposal.
This makes the process more onerous and gives every capital a possible veto power, which may assist win over EU members to the politically difficult new notion.
The G7 summit, which will take place in Japan later this month and is likely to focus on increasing sanctions against Russia and preventing circumvention, has been the subject of much discussion.
The revised package, which member states will review on Wednesday, is good news for Ukraine supporters. "'m satisfied with that [package] as long as the final decision has been made … All the sanctions which are harming the Russian war machine, we are supporting them," according to Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna.
By fLEXI tEAM