14th Package of EU Sanctions against Russia: New Gas Restrictions and Tougher Anti-Circumvention Sanctions

Legal - June 26, 2024

The crisis in Ukraine led the European Union (EU) to impose a series of sanctions on Russia, starting shortly after the conflict escalated in February 2022. These measures were implemented in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, with the intention of exerting economic and political pressure on the Russian government to withdraw its forces and respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

Phases of the sanctions

1. Phase 1 – Beginning of 2022:
As soon as the invasion began, the EU adopted an initial package of sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans on Russian politicians and senior officials involved in the attack. It also imposed bans on certain exports and technologies that could have contributed to the Russian war effort.

2. Second phase – March 2022:
The escalation of sanctions included further trade restrictions, particularly in the energy sector. The EU reduced its purchases of natural gas and oil from Russia, thus directly targeting one of the country’s main sources of revenue. This led to the search for energy alternatives and the promotion of greater energy independence among EU member states.

3. Third phase – April 2022:
The focus shifted to the financial isolation of Russia. Russian banks were excluded from the SWIFT international payment system, making it much more difficult for Russia to conduct international financial transactions. In addition, the assets of the Russian Central Bank held abroad were frozen, limiting the country’s ability to access its international reserves.

4. Phase Four – Second half of 2022:
Sanctions were extended to broader sectors, including restrictions on exports of advanced technology, electronic components and semiconductors. This was aimed at reducing Russia’s technological capacity and slowing down its military and industrial development. The European luxury sector, such as cars and fashion, was also affected by export bans to Russia.

5. Fifth phase – 2023:
As the conflict dragged on, the EU continued to update and tighten existing sanctions. Particular emphasis was placed on sanctions evasion, with increased efforts to close any loopholes that allowed Russia or Russian entities to evade previously imposed restrictions.The sanctions have had a significant impact on the Russian economy, leading to rouble depreciation, inflation and general financial instability. However, the effectiveness of the sanctions has been debated. Some critics argue that the sanctions, while affecting the Russian economy, have not yet led to a significant change in Russia’s policies or military actions.

The EU’s approach to sanctions against Russia reflects a complex, multifaceted strategy of economic and political pressure. While sanctions remain central to the international response to the conflict in Ukraine, their long-term effectiveness and geopolitical impact are still being assessed.

In June 2024, the situation in Ukraine remains tense and dynamic. Russian forces have intensified their military activities, particularly in the northern Kharkiv region, where recent advances have been made. In particular, fighting continues near the Russian border areas between Svatove and Kreminna, as well as west of the city of Donetsk, signalling a potential escalation in these zones.

In the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, Russian airstrikes continue to target civilian infrastructure, severely impacting Ukraine’s energy network and causing widespread power outages. These strikes have not only damaged facilities but also caused civilian casualties, particularly in places like Dnipro and Odesa.

On the political front, Russian President Vladimir Putin has focused on delegitimising Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, inaccurately claiming that Zelensky’s extension of his term is unconstitutional. This is part of a wider Russian information campaign aimed at undermining Ukrainian leadership and sowing discord within Ukraine.

Amid these challenges, Ukrainian forces have actively responded with long-range strikes against Russian military and industrial targets in the occupied territories, including significant attacks on air defence systems in the Russian Belgorod region and other strategic sites in Crimea and Krasnodar region.

The conflict continues to cause serious humanitarian problems, with ongoing threats to civilian life and disruption of essential services. The international community remains closely involved, monitoring the situation and providing support where possible. For continuous updates and more detailed reports, it would be useful to follow reputable sources such as Al Jazeera and the Institute for the Study of War.

Now, the European Union has unveiled a new package of sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime. This is the fourteenth in a series of packages the EU has imposed over the past two years in response to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. The restrictive measures aim to punish those responsible for serious human rights violations and the repression of democratic opposition, which clearly distance Russia from the model of the rule of law and democracy. The packages will be implemented under a global regime of sanctions against Russian entities, as well as a specific regime targeting those who provide financial and technical support for human rights violations in Russia. With regard to Ukraine, the packages imposed on Russia by the EU leadership seek to weaken the economic base of Russia and those who support it militarily (Belarus, Iran, North Korea). With the 14th sanctions package against Russia, the European Union wanted to “deal a further blow”, as the official EU Council communiqué put it, “to the Putin regime and those who continue its illegal, unjustified and unwarranted war of aggression against Ukraine”. Joseph Borrell, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stressed that ‘our sanctions have already significantly weakened the Russian economy and prevented Putin from carrying out his plans to destroy Ukraine, although the illegal aggression against civilians and civilian infrastructure continues. The 14th sanctions package,” Borrell added, “demonstrates our unity in support of Ukraine and in seeking to curb Russia’s criminal activities against Ukrainians, including efforts to evade EU measures. The EU’s sanctions have thus enabled Ukraine to remain outside the Russian yoke, despite the fact that attacks, including on civilians, continue. In fact, the Russian objective is to keep Ukraine away from the Western world, with the intention, which is only declared by Russian propaganda but is not true, of ‘liberating’ the Russian-speaking population and reuniting it with Moscow. However, Vladimir Putin’s clear intention is to reaffirm a new Russian colonialism on the model of the Soviet Union, contrary to the principle of the self-determination of peoples, both internal and external. Ukraine is in fact free to choose its own form of government and to be autonomous from other foreign powers. Its inclination towards the Western model and the European Union, which it has repeatedly announced it will join at the end of the conflict, is precisely what Vladimir Putin’s army is trying to combat.

The LNG restrictions

To return to the subject of sanctions, “today’s package”, according to the communiqué issued by the Council of the European Union, “includes restrictive measures against 116 other persons and entities responsible for actions that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. A way, as mentioned, to weaken Russia primarily in the economic field and to concretely damage certain strategic sectors of the Russian economy, such as the energy sector, including, among other things, further measures to prevent the sanctions themselves from being circumvented. In the energy sector, as expected, the most important part of the package is concretised: it bans, first and foremost, services for the reloading of Russian liquefied natural gas in the European Union as part of transhipment operations to third countries. It also prohibits investment and the supply of goods and services for the construction and completion of LNG projects. This will result in a significant reduction in Russia’s revenues from the sale and transportation of LNG. With regard to transshipment, the package sanctions ship-to-ship transfers, ship-to-shore transfers and reloading operations as far as re-exports to third countries are concerned. On the import side, however, the EU has announced that it will introduce significant restrictions on the supply of LNG through EU terminals. In other words, the aim is to reduce the inflow of additional natural gas from Russia.

The anti-avoidance clause

As expected, the new measures concern circumvention, which is to be combated by trying to create more responsibility and introduce more sanctions for anyone caught not complying with the rules. According to the Council of the European Union communiqué, “EU parent companies will be required to do their utmost to ensure that their non-EU subsidiaries do not engage in activities that produce the result that the sanctions are intended to prevent”. Another clause included in the package is aimed at combating the re-export of war materiel found in Ukraine, which is crucial for the development of Russian military systems: to this end, the EU has decided that those who sell these goods will have to strengthen due diligence mechanisms in order to reduce or avoid the risks associated with re-exporting war materiel to Russia. Similarly, industrial know-how for the production of war material will have to include contractual provisions to “ensure that such know-how is not used for goods destined for Russia”. In addition, the European Commission had agreed to include the so-called ‘No Russia clause’, which would have prohibited the re-export of products to Russia for high-priority items, but this was removed at Germany’s request. It could, however, be applied later.

Transport, exports, finance

Other measures concern the financial world, the issue of financing political parties and other organisations, the transport sector, and further controls and restrictions on imports and exports. First, the EU Council decided to ban the use by EU operators of the ‘Financial Message Transfer System’ used by the Russian Central Bank to evade EU sanctions. The sanctions also extend to financial institutions using cryptocurrencies established outside the EU’s borders, if “such entities facilitate transactions in support of Russia’s defence and industrial base through the export, supply, sale, transfer or transport to Russia of dual-use goods and technologies, sensitive goods, war material, firearms and ammunition”. To also counter Russian attempts to interfere in the policies of the EU and its member states, the Council went on to ban the financing by Russia and its proxies of political parties, political foundations, non-governmental organisations, think tanks and media and information service providers in the EU. In the latter case, however, the right to freedom of information was respected: “In line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the measures agreed today will not prevent media service providers and their staff from carrying out other activities in the EU, such as research and interviews”. Finally, for the first time, the EU has introduced new measures on shipping: the aim is to crack down on Putin’s so-called shadow fleet, which uses deceptive practices and disregard for international standards to evade EU limits and support the Russian cause in Ukraine. To this end, various restrictions will be adopted, extending the ban on flights within the EU and the ban on the transport of goods by road. Finally, further restrictions will be imposed on the export of dual-use goods and technologies that contribute to the strengthening of Russian industry, in particular the military industry.