EU leaders have agreed to impose “massive” sanctions on Russia in areas ranging from finance to transport, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in the early hours of Friday. She declared that “we will hold the Kremlin accountable” after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his troops into Ukraine this week. Ukraine has said that Russian rockets hit the capital Kyiv last night, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accusing Moscow of targeting civilians. In recent days, the relationship between leaders in Europe and Russian business has come under the microscope.
Germany’s reliance on gas from Russia has been criticised in recent weeks, with Nord Stream 2 plans being shelved in a string of sanctions over Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and former Prime Minister of France François Fillon ‒ both on boards of Russian energy companies ‒ are being considered for British sanctions, according to Politico.
Mr Schröder, who was German Chancellor before Angela Merkel started her long tenure, went on to chair boards of Russian state oil firm Rosneft and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline firm.
He came under fire in 2020 when he refused to accept that Russia was behind the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Norbert Röttgen, a close aide to Ms Merkel at the time, accused Mr Schröder of helping to obscure Russian responsibility for the poisoning.
He said: “This behaviour by Mr Schröder fills many in Germany with shame, I think in his party and outside his party.”
German media has also reported that Mr Schröder enjoys a “bromance” with President Putin.
This includes spending Christmas in Moscow with him one year. The Russian leader also paid Mr Schröder a home visit to celebrate his 60th birthday.
Mr Fillon, the former French Prime Minister, joined the board of directors of the Russian petrochemicals giant Sibur in December 2021.
The conservative, who ran for president in 2017 after an almost five-year stint as former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s prime minister, joined the Russian company as an “independent director”.
The group is chaired by Russian oligarchs Leonid Mikhelson and Gennady Timchenko.
Mr Timchenko is a longtime acquaintance of Putin – his activities in the energy sector “have been directly linked to Putin” by the US Treasury in 2014.
Mr Fillon was sentenced in June 2020 to five years in prison — two of which are closed — in a case of fictitious jobs that derailed his presidential campaign in 2017.
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He appealed the decision, and Paris Court of Appeals said it would issue its ruling in May 2022.
While the EU is now trying to toughen its stance with Russia, Ukrainian leaders are still furious after Brussels held back from imposing the potentially most damaging sanction on Russia.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, hit out at the EU for not blocking Russia from an international payments system through which it receives foreign currency – SWIFT.
Mr Kuleba tweeted: “I will not be diplomatic on this.
“Everyone who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from Swift has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children will be on their hands too. BAN RUSSIA FROM SWIFT.”
Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, admitted that “many colleagues pleaded for it” but he told reporters that “more work needs to be done to assess what happens if Russia is cut off”.
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The Politico report describes the past few months as “one giant exercise in appeasement”, also referring to French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to build a relationship with Putin.
Mr Macron reportedly believed Russia was a partner the EU could “negotiate a new security architecture with”.
What’s more, there are questions over why Europe did not take a tougher line with Russia when it annexed Crimea back in 2014.
The UK Government is also under pressure for ties to Russian money.
The Conservative Party has opened itself up to potentially malign Russian influence by accepting donations from individuals with links to the Kremlin, the former Tory chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has warned.
Dominic Grieve told the i newspaper: “It should never have accepted money, this has been a long-running saga for the Government.
“What has been obvious for a long time is that anybody who is a Russian living in the UK and continues to have business, family and any other links to Russia, you have to factor in their reasons for giving money to the Tory party may not be entirely altruistic.”
Labour is demanding the Conservatives pay back the £2million given to the party since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.