March 17 (Bloomberg) -- European Union governments sanctioned 21 officials deemed responsible for Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine, as EU countries favoring negotiations with Russia defeated calls for tougher initial penalties.
EU foreign ministers imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 10 Russian political figures, three military commanders and eight Crimean politicians. They stopped short of blacklisting three of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intimates who were hit with U.S. sanctions.
Russia’s attempt to seize Crimea reawakened east-west divisions in the 28-nation bloc, with former Soviet satellites urging the firmest possible response and EU heavyweights like Germany and France determined to keep open diplomatic channels to the Kremlin.
“Countries that are closer to Russia, they see stronger what’s going on,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “Countries far away need more time. It is important that there is complete consensus.”
European governments held out hope that Putin would use yesterday’s referendum as a bargaining chip in talks over greater autonomy for Crimea within Ukraine and wouldn’t seek to peel off other ethnically Russian regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Russians sanctioned by the EU included the commander of the Black Sea fleet, Aleksandr Viktorovich Vitko. American sanctions against three Putin confidantes -- Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and presidential advisers Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev -- weren’t echoed by the EU.
The EU’s six Crimean targets included two on the U.S. list: Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov and parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov. EU leaders may expand the blacklist and consider a wider range of economic sanctions at a summit on March 20-21.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU is sending “clear messages in two directions: on the one hand to Russia but on the other also a signal of solidarity to our east European partners.”
The EU had 11 days to draw up the list, following a March 6 emergency summit of the 28-nation bloc’s leaders. Its scope was also dictated by the need for it to be legally watertight to make sure the penalties survive potential court challenges.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said it made sense to target officials “from the political realm, from the military realm, but I think it would be wrong to take random measures against business figures or other groups.”
Leaving out businesspeople such as Alexey Miller, chief executive officer of Russian natural-gas export monopoly OAO Gazprom, was a political calculation that reflects the EU’s need for Russian energy. Germany, the bloc’s largest economy, relies on Russia for 35 percent of its gas and oil imports.
“Nobody is pretending that it changes all the calculations of President Putin,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said. “But it is very important for us to be clear about how we regard these events.”
Eighteen days have elapsed since the first pro-Russian forces seized facilities in Crimea and 11 days since EU government leaders held an emergency summit to demand that Russia “immediately” pull back its armed forces and permit outside monitors.
Leaders meet again on March 20-21 to consider “additional and far-reaching consequences,” the foreign ministers said in a statement. EU leaders normally set broad strategy, lessening the likelihood that the summit will decide legally binding steps.
Informally, ideas floated publicly include restricting Russian access to the European financial system; curbing European investment in Russian industries, notably energy; and imposing European antitrust penalties on Gazprom. No deadline has been set for wider economic sanctions.
Next steps could include “an embargo on weapons and dual-use technologies, plus measures against Russian companies and their subsidiaries,” Elmar Brok, head of European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in an e-mailed statement.
Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania, under Soviet rule during the Cold War, voiced frustration with the EU’s slow pace of operating due to the need for all 28 governments to agree.
“I’m not very happy with the speed we’re working some times,” Linkevicius said as the meeting started. “They should be stopped now, not in two weeks.”
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