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Wider Europe Briefing: More Russian Banks To Be Hit By EU Sanctions; Plus, A Controversial OSCE Gathering

Russian banks such as Alfa-Bank, Rosbank, and Tinkoff Bank, as well as the Russian National Wealth Fund, are included in the EU's latest sanctions package.
Russian banks such as Alfa-Bank, Rosbank, and Tinkoff Bank, as well as the Russian National Wealth Fund, are included in the EU's latest sanctions package.

Welcome to Wider Europe, RFE/RL's newsletter focusing on the key issues concerning the European Union, NATO, and other institutions and their relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe's Eastern neighborhoods. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak, and this week I'm drilling down on two major issues: the EU's new sanctions package on Russia and a meeting of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly that looks set to welcome sanctioned Russian State Duma members to Vienna.

Brief #1: A New Sanctions Package On The Anniversary Of Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

What You Need To Know: The European Union is preparing another sanctions package on Russia to coincide with the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. EU ambassadors had a first discussion on the measures prepared by the European Commission last week and, according to diplomats familiar with the discussion who are not authorized to speak on the record, there is every chance that the 27 member states will reach the necessary unanimous agreement on the sanctions package soon.

That agreement is likely because, just as in the previous round of sanctions agreed in December 2022, this one isn't very hard-hitting. To increase the chances of swift endorsement, a raft of potentially controversial items is being left out, such as a ban on Russian diamond imports (which Belgium would likely veto) and energy-related sanctions on, for example, the Russian nuclear sector (which both Hungary and Bulgaria have previously indicated they would nix).

Deep Background: The centerpiece of this sanctions package, seen by RFE/RL, is export bans on EU goods worth 11.3 billion euros ($12 billion), using EU-Russia trade volumes from 2021. A whole list of products, stretching to nearly 70 pages, will be banned from going to Russia. This focuses mainly on things used by the Russian military in Ukraine, such as sensors and lasers, marine and diesel engines, tractors, devices used in semiconductors such as microchips, but also rare earth metals and various types of cameras. There is also an import ban on some Russian goods, mostly various types of rubber and asphalt, coming into the EU, to the tune of 1 billion euros.

As always, there are also listings of individuals and companies on which visa bans and asset freezes will be imposed. The list, which currently consists of 1,386 individuals and 171 companies and organizations, will likely see the addition of 63 more people and up to 30 entities. In the first category, there are no new oligarchs included but rather Moscow-appointed politicians in senior positions in the Ukrainian territories partially controlled by Russia, State Duma members, ministers, military leaders, and officials the EU believes are responsible for the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to various Russian regions.

The entities this time are arguably more interesting with the inclusion of Russian banks such as Alfa-Bank, Rosbank, and Tinkoff Bank, as well as the Russian National Wealth Fund. Several companies involved in making military equipment and machinery are also included, as is the Russian state-owned media group Rossiya Segodnya, which runs both the RIA Novosti news agency and the Sputnik media agency.

Drilling Down

  • Another aspect of this package is that Iranian companies are also sanctioned for supplying the Russian war machine, including drone-making companies such as Qods and Shahed Aviation and the aerospace force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
  • It has also been suggested that some loopholes in previous sanctions rounds be closed. While it is already prohibited to both export and import so-called dual-use goods, meaning items that can have both military and civilian uses, the transit through Russia of such items will now be banned as well.
  • According to the proposed package, Russian citizens will no longer be able to hold any positions in governing bodies of companies owning critical infrastructure in the EU, such as electricity generation, water supply, and telecommunications. Similarly, it will no longer be possible to provide gas storage for Russian nationals and companies.
  • The EU is also stepping up its efforts to locate and map out all the Russian frozen assets in the bloc. As part of the sanctions proposal, the European Commission is demanding very detailed figures from capitals and is even proposing fining member states if they don't comply. While confiscating Russian assets to pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine is still a long way off, this could be considered a first step in that direction.
  • As always, there are new derogations and new loopholes. One is that the exemption to allow Russian fertilizers to be exported to the EU and worldwide, agreed in the previous December sanctions package, should also include assets tied to this industry that are held in sanctioned Russian banks.
  • Another is that the wind-down period of joint ventures with sanctioned Russian state-owned entities has been prolonged from June to December of this year. That also applies to additional professional services associated with the decoupling, such as accounting and legal advice.

Brief #2: Controversy In Vienna As Russia's OSCE Delegation Might Be Coming To Town

What You Need To Know: One of the most controversial meetings of the year so far will take place in Vienna in the coming days: the winter session of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly (PA).

Normally this event, which brings together some 323 parliamentarians from the organization's 57 member states with the stated goal of fostering inter-parliamentary dialogue, doesn't get much media coverage. It will this year, for two reasons.

First, visas will be issued for members of the Russian delegation, which includes several individuals who are on the EU sanctions list imposed on Moscow after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. And second, this meeting takes place exactly on the first anniversary of that invasion, on February 24.

Deep Background: If the Russian delegation does show up in the Austrian capital this week, it will be the first time members of the Russian State Duma have been in the European Union in an official capacity since being sanctioned for supporting the war, notably by voting in favor of seizing the four Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has met twice before since the invasion -- in July in Birmingham, England, and in the Polish capital, Warsaw, in November -- but both times the Russian delegation was denied visas.

That won't be the case this time, as the Austrian government has said it has to allow the Moscow delegation entry because Vienna has struck a so-called "headquarters agreement" with the OSCE, an international pact that Vienna says must be honored. The government did add, however, that the visas will only be valid for Austria -- and not for anywhere else in the EU -- and only for the duration of the parliamentary session.

The move has prompted both Ukraine and Lithuania to boycott the meeting. The head of the Ukrainian delegation, Mykyta Poturayev, recently wrote a letter, seen by RFE/RL, to OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Margareta Cederfelt, saying that "we have no doubts that the Russian delegation will use the OSCE PA platform for justification of the aggression against my country, as well as for whitewashing numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Ukrainian people. All this will undermine the integrity of the assembly and will compromise a clear and steadfast position the assembly has, so far, demonstrated with regard to the Russian aggression since 2014."

Drilling Down

  • The big question is whether Austria was, in fact, right in granting visas to the Russian delegation. Being sanctioned by the EU means a visa suspension, but that can legally be lifted for a short period of time by an EU capital -- to attend international conferences, for example.
  • It is, however, a political and legal gray area. Is an international obligation, such as the one struck between the OSCE and Austria, a more important obligation than that of upholding EU sanctions? And Austria has also previously denied visas to Russian officials wanting to come to Vienna for other OSCE-related meetings, showing that it can be done.
  • Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the OSCE has also been very careful not to cut all ties with Russia. After Russia was expelled from the Council of Europe in March, the OSCE is the only larger pan-European political organization of which Moscow remains a member.
  • Another concern is whether other countries will follow Ukraine and Lithuania's lead and boycott the meeting. Delegates from nearly a dozen countries also wrote to Cederfelt stating: "We believe the OSCE is a forum for dialogue but not an unconditional one. Russia has placed itself outside the bracket of nations committed to the principles of national law." There was also a push to postpone the meeting and potentially move it to another city.
  • In a response to the delegates' letter, dated February 15 and seen by RFE/RL, Cederfelt wrote that, after a decision by her in consultation with the OSCE's senior leadership, the meeting in Vienna would go ahead as planned.
  • In the letter, Cederfelt also added that "we invite you to make full use of this Winter Meeting to discuss how our Parliamentary Assembly can play its full part in the efforts to bring justice and help Ukraine restore its full independence and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders."
  • In another letter authored by Cederfelt and addressed to the speaker of Ukraine's parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, she said: "I would greatly appreciate the presence of the Delegation of Ukraine at our meeting in Vienna, sitting in the front row, where they will be able to hear overwhelming expressions of support from our Members."
  • Probably nothing but certainly worth noting: The far-right Freedom Party of Austria, which has enjoyed close links with Moscow in recent years, is hosting its Academy Ball in another part of the grand Hofburg Palace where the OSCE assembly is taking place.

Looking Ahead

The main event of the week is U.S. President Joe Biden's trip to Poland on February 20-22. As well as meeting the Polish president, Biden will meet the leaders of the Bucharest Nine, an informal group of Central and Eastern European countries, which, along with the host Poland, includes Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia. There has been some speculation that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will join the various meetings, or even that Biden could go to Ukraine. According to The New York Times, White House officials have "declined to say whether Mr. Biden planned to make a visit to Ukraine while he was in the area."

EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on February 20. In the meeting, the foreign ministers of both Ukraine and Moldova will address their colleagues and update them on recent developments in their countries. One of the issues the bloc's foreign ministers are expected to discuss is a proposal for EU member states to jointly purchase and provide 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition that Kyiv has said it desperately needs.

That's all for this week. Feel free to reach out to me on any of these issues on Twitter @RikardJozwiak or on e-mail at

Until next time,

Rikard Jozwiak

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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About The Newsletter

Wider Europe

The Wider Europe newsletter briefs you every Monday on key issues concerning the EU, NATO, and other institutions’ relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe’s Eastern neighborhoods.

For more than a decade as a correspondent in Brussels, Rikard Jozwiak covered all the major events and crises related to the EU’s neighborhood and how various Western institutions reacted to them -- the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the downing of MH17, dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, the EU and NATO enlargement processes in the Western Balkans, as well as visa liberalizations, free-trade deals, and countless summits.

Now out of the “Brussels bubble,” but still looking in -- this time from the heart of Europe, in Prague -- he continues to focus on the countries where Brussels holds huge sway, but also faces serious competition from other players, such as Russia and, increasingly, China.

To subscribe, click here.