European foreign ministers said on Monday that the sanctions imposed on Russia as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine are working despite the threat to the EU’s own energy supplies.
Last week, one of the leaders of the EU, Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, denounced the policy and said Brussels was doing more damage to Europe’s own economy than Moscow.
Arriving at EU headquarters for talks on how to close loopholes in the sanctions regime and increase pressure on Russia, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rejected this.
“Some European leaders say the sanctions were a mistake, a mistake,” he told reporters.
“Well, I don’t think it was a mistake. This is what we had to do and we will continue to do.”
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn rejected the idea of lifting the sanctions: “If we did it, it would be fatal. Our trust is at stake.
“Usually we would have to use diplomacy, the UN, to try and get it right. But we don’t have normal times. We live in a time when the laws of the jungle are in force.
Since February, when Russia invaded its already partly occupied neighboring Ukraine, the EU has rolled out a series of six rounds of sanctions against Moscow.
Imports of most oil have been banned since June and diplomats are discussing a gold embargo, but many European countries remain dependent on Russian energy supplies.
Borrell and most Western leaders insist that the sanctions have hurt the Russian economy and will only get tougher unless President Vladimir Putin withdraws his troops from Ukraine.
But on Friday, Orban, the EU leader closest to the Kremlin and a frequent critic of Brussels, criticized the measures, saying Europe had “shot itself in the lungs” by hurting energy supplies.
“Brussels thought that the sanctions policy would hurt the Russians, but it would hurt us more,” he said.
Borrell and EU ministers held talks via video link with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba before discussing among themselves how to tighten sanctions.
Kuleba, in an address to the ministers, which was shared with journalists, called on the EU not to yield to Putin.
“Retreating and obeying his demands will not work, it never worked. It’s a trap,” he said.
“I’m sure there will be more pro-Kremlin voices in the coming weeks pushing public opinion to give Putin what he wants to leave Europe alone.
“We must actively confront these narratives,” he said.
Borrell noted that EU officials are developing plans to ban Russian gold imports, but added: “We are not talking about a ‘new package’, but are improving the implementation of existing sanctions.”
Meanwhile, Russia has begun cutting off gas supplies to Europe, threatening the energy security of countries such as Germany, the EU’s industrial leader.
“Russia is trying to demoralize us,” said Anna Luermann, German State Minister for European Affairs.
“We will continue to support Ukraine both economically and politically, but also by military means,” she said. “It is very important that the sanctions are maintained.”