European Union leaders met Tuesday and pledged to toughen sanctions against Russia, imposing a new round of asset freezes and travel bans against high-ranking Russian government officials. The sanctions, coming five days after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine, are Europe’s strictest punishment of Moscow since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. Nevertheless, European leaders stopped short of targeting major Russian companies and industries.
In comments after the meeting, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told reporters the European leaders were “unanimous” and “forceful” in their discussion of the sanctions, which may also target Russia’s defense industry. But divisions within Europe over how to deal with Russia, a key trading partner to many countries across the continent, have limited the range of feasible options.
Russia supplies large amounts of natural gas to a number of European countries, including Germany, the continent’s largest economy. Russia is also a crucial market for German exports, particularly luxury cars that target its emerging middle class. And, in spite of a British call to curtail arms sales, France plans to proceed with the sale of advanced warships to Russia.
Asset freezes target the bank accounts and financial holdings of sanctioned Russian officials, as well as prevent them from buying or selling property on European Union soil. Travel bans prevent sanctioned officials from traveling to and from EU cities -- even in transit -- though exceptions are made on medical or humanitarian grounds. European sanctions, unlike stricter ones imposed by the United States, have thus far refrained from targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.
The identity of individuals included in the new round of sanctions will likely be revealed by the end of July. European leaders are scheduled to meet next in late August.