The European Union on Saturday released the names of 11 Ukrainian rebel leaders added to its sanctions list last week, when it established travel bans and asset freezes against the rebels. The EU’s blacklist has steadily grown as the conflict in Ukraine rages on. The latest addition brings the number of people under sanctions to 72. The EU has also blacklisted two Crimean energy companies that Russia took over earlier this year.
Perhaps the most well-known rebel to be named to the list on Saturday was 41-year-old Russian citizen Aleksander Borodai. The EU stated that Borodai was responsible for separatists activities in the “so-called” government of the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” The eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk has seen much of the fighting since the conflict spread to the region earlier this year. Borodai has described himself as a political advisor who aided Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and said that he was now helping separatists in eastern Ukraine. However, he has denied any connections with Moscow.
Kiev has called the rebels terrorists, and claims that Russia is supporting them. Moscow in turn condemned the sanctions last week, and warned that they would harm the EU’s relations with Russia.
In addition to sanctioning the Ukrainian rebel leaders, European Union officials have said that they would not postpone the enactment of the free-trade and political coöperation agreement that Ukraine finally signed with the EU last month. Nevertheless, EU trade chief Karel de Gucht met with Ukrainian and Russian officials in Brussels on Friday in an effort to convince the Kremlin that the EU was not looking to harm the Russian economy.
European Union leaders said at a June 27 gathering that the bloc could impose additional sanctions against Russia if the rebels continued the hostilities in Ukraine. The officials demanded that the insurgents agree to a ceasefire, free their hostages, return control of border checkpoints to Ukrainian authorities, and begin peace talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. However, the EU has thus far wavered in imposing harsher trade sanctions against Russia because some countries fear the repercussions of antagonizing the bloc’s largest energy supplier.
Hostilities began in late 2013 when demonstrators took control of a central square in Kiev and demanded that then-President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally, agree to closer relations with the EU. When he refused and instead signed a treaty with Moscow, demonstrators called for his ouster. The protests turned violent in February, with each side blaming the other for the escalation. Yanukovich fled to Russia on February 21. The Ukrainian parliament subsequently deposed him and established an interim government. Moscow declared that the move was a coup, and shortly afterwards, pro-Russian forces began to take control on the Crimean Peninsula.
In March, a referendum was held in Crimea about joining the Russian Federation, with a wide margin voting in favor of the measure. The US, the EU, and Ukraine all condemned the move. Moscow would go on to annex the territory, but a UN General Assembly resolution declared both the referendum and the annexation to be illegal. In the following months, clashes between the two sides would spread to the eastern part of Ukraine.
While the European Union’s efforts in sanctioning the 11 Ukrainian rebel leaders shows its support for Kiev in the conflict, the move will likely not intimidate the insurgents. Without more weighty initiatives from all parties involved, the only guarantee in the region remains the persistence of bloodshed.
By Yitzchak Besser