EU targets Russia's LNG ghost fleet with sanctions

AP , Monday 24 Jun 2024

The European Union on Monday slapped new sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, targeting Moscow’s shadow fleet of tankers moving liquefied natural gas through Europe as well as several companies.

File photo - The European Union imposed new sanctions on Russia s LNG shadow fleet of tankers. AFP


At a meeting in Luxembourg, where the sanctions were endorsed, EU foreign ministers also expressed concern about a rise in hybrid attacks by Russia – including allegations of election interference, cyber-attacks and sabotage.

In an effort to push Russia into using more costly routes for energy purposes, the ministers said in a statement, the EU will “forbid reloading services of Russian LNG in EU territory for the purpose of transshipment operations to third countries.”

The EU estimates that about 4-to-6 billion cubic meters (141 billion-212 billion cubic feet) of Russian LNG was shipped to third countries via EU ports last year. Russia is suspected of running a “ghost fleet” of up to 400 ships to evade sanctions and keep up the flow of energy earnings so that it can finance the war.

The measures will target ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore transfers as well as reloading operations. It also involves a crackdown on the re-export of LNG to third countries via the EU, plus a ban on new investments to help Russia complete LNG projects it is working on.

Scores of new “entities” – often companies, banks, agencies and other organizations – were added to the EU’s list, including some in China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Many are allegedly accused of circumventing the bloc’s sanctions or providing sensitive equipment to Russia.

More than 50 officials are also being targeted with asset freezes, as well as travel bans. Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and scores of lawmakers and several oligarchs are among more than 1,700 people already listed by the EU.

Over 400 entities previously hit include companies working in the military, aviation, shipbuilding and machinery sectors, the Wagner mercenary group, political parties and banks. Around 210 billion euros ($225 billion) worth of Russian Central Bank assets are blocked in the EU.

As they arrived for the meeting, some ministers insisted that action must be taken to end hybrid attacks in Europe by Russia that take place in a “grey zone” just below the threshold of military action which are aimed at destabilizing Ukraine’s backers.

Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said that “there’s a plethora of actions they have been undertaking against European countries.” Finland has closed border crossings with Russia, blaming the Kremlin for an orchestrated campaign exploiting migrants.

“There is no observer status in Europe anymore to Russia’s aggression. We are all victims of Russia’s aggression,” she said. “It is crucial that we keep on aiding Ukraine because Russia only understands power.”

Her Lithuanian counterpart, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said there is “ample evidence” of malign activity by Russia.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that we are yet sending the right message,” he said. “Moscow has to get a very clear message that whenever they escalate, they will receive an answer from our side.”

NATO warned in May of Russian “hostile state activity” toward both their countries, as well as against the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Poland and the U.K., and said that the Kremlin's actions “constitute a threat to allied security.”

In a separate move, the EU imposed sanctions on two people accused of online espionage with the “Callisto group,” Ruslan Peretyatko and Andrey Korinets. It said the group has waged cyber operations against EU member countries to try to steal sensitive defense and diplomatic data.

Also targeted for hacking activities and spreading malicious software were members of the “Armageddon hacker” and “Wizard Spider” groups.

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