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UKRAINE

Germany says EU will ‘severely’ sanction Putin

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Friday said new sanctions against Russia would personally punish President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for their responsibility in the invasion of Ukraine.

Annalena Baerbock
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock holds a crisis meeting after Russia wages war on Ukraine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/POOL AP | Markus Schreiber

“They are responsible for the death of innocent people in Ukraine. They are responsible that the international system is trampled and we as Europeans do not accept that,” Baerbock said as she arrived for talks in Brussels.

As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear whether Putin and Lavrov would still be allowed to enter the EU without restrictions. Normally, indviduals who are sanctions lists also face entry bans, which would only be lifted with exceptional permission, for example for peace talks.

The punitive measures are part of a large sanctions package that is expected to come into force later today. The foreign ministers of the 27 EU states plan to sign off on the legal texts on Friday afternoon. 

According to diplomats, the heads of state and government of the EU states agreed on the listing of Putin and Lavrov on the sanctions list on Thursday evening.

Though Russia’s president is very unlikely to have assets abroad, the mention of Putin and his Foreign Minister in the sanctions list is intended as a symbolic show of resolve. 

Other EU economic sanctions target the areas of energy, finance and transport. In addition, the EU is export controls on certain products and restrictions on visas in place. 

Not so SWIFT

Two sanctions that experts believe would have the hardest impact – excluding from Russia from the SWIFT banking system and banning natural gas imports – were notably absent from the sanctions package on Friday.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, does not actually handle any transfers of funds itself.

But the system is used by banks to send standardised messages about transfers of sums between themselves, transfers of sums for clients, and buy and sell orders for assets. 

This means that a country shut out of it would face huge difficulties when attempting to trade with others and is generally considered the nuclear option when it comes to sanctions on Russia. 

The lack of movement on SWIFT has been met with dismay by Ukrainian leaders, who have expressly called on Western allies to expel Moscow from the system that banks rely on to transfer money.

But US President Joe Biden revealed this week that while it remains an option, “right now that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.”

READ ALSO: OPINION: This is Russia’s war, but we Europeans need to learn fast from our mistakes

He claimed that the action taken to freeze the assets of Russian banks would have a more severe impact than blocking access to SWIFT. 

However, many political figures are deeply unhappy about the delay in excluding Russia from the transfer system.  

Writing on Twitter, former European Council President Donald Tusk lashed out at the EU nations – including Germany – who are believed to have been responsible for obstructing the harder sanctions. 

Donald Tusk

Former European Council President Donald Tusk speaks in Warsaw, Poland, on February 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PAP | Pawel Supernak

“In this war, everything is real: Putin’s madness and cruelty, Ukrainian victims, bombs falling on Kyiv. Only your sanctions are pretended (sic),” Tusk wrote. “Those EU governments, which blocked tough decisions (i.e. Germany, Hungary, Italy) have disgraced themselves.”

Speaking on public television on Friday, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner laid out starkly the preoccupation of Europe’s biggest economy: suspension of SWIFT “would mean that there is a high risk that Germany will no longer receive gas, raw material supplies from Russia”.

Lindner said he was “open” to including SWIFT “in the course of possible further toughening of sanctions” while adding that allies would “have to be aware of the consequences.”

The EU, US and UK have all indicated the SWIFT is still on the table for a later date, and experts have predicted that Russia may retaliate to the sanctions by opting to cut off supplies of natural gas into Europe. 

Up until recently, the Russian state-owned company Gazprom has supplied around 40 percent of the gas consumed in the EU, according to the EU Commission.

Germany, meanwhile, gets around 55 percent of its natural gas from Russia, accounting to around 25 percent of its total energy needs. 

READ ALSO: ‘Historical failure’: Germany to hike military spending after years of underfunding

Member comments

  1. Would Germany go as far as insisting that Russia would only be allowed to pay with cash, thereby revoking access to their right to pay with an EC card?

    Seriously.,, grow a pair!

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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