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Brussels seeks to ban Russian funding of European politicians

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Brussels will propose a ban on Russian funding of political parties, non-governmental organisations and think-tanks as part of a fresh round of sanctions aimed at crippling Moscow’s ability to pursue its war against Ukraine and spread discord among European allies.

The proposal is part of the latest package of sanctions sent to member states by the European Commission for their approval, according to a confidential draft seen by the Financial Times.

The sanctions come as the bloc comes under increasing pressure from Ukraine to boost its military support amid a heavy Russian offensive. Meanwhile, EU governments are trying to crack down on Russian disinformation campaigns ahead of European parliament elections in June.

Fears of Russian interference in the elections have increased following a series of revelations about spying scandals and influence campaigns, particularly among far-right groups, in the past month.

“Propaganda and disinformation campaigns are capable of undermining the foundations of democratic societies and are an integral part of the arsenal of modern hybrid attacks,” the draft proposal said. 

Prohibiting funding for those campaigns would protect EU citizens from “malign interference”, it said.

The proposals also call for a ban on four media outlets from broadcasting in Europe, the documents showed.

The package of sanctions — the bloc’s 14th following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — is mostly “technical and not really substantial”, one EU diplomat said, demonstrating the increasing difficulty the EU has had in finding consensus among member states.

“In our view [it’s] not a very strong package.”

Bans on EU imports of aluminium, cloud services and liquefied natural gas from Russia have not been included despite requests from Baltic and Nordic EU member states.

However, transshipment of liquefied natural gas from Russia to countries outside the bloc at EU ports would be prohibited, if member states agree to the proposal.

The package focuses instead on further restricting companies that support Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and tighter export controls on goods that could have military applications. 

It sets out further restrictions on imports of Russian helium, and on exports of a number of chemicals, manganese ores, rare-earth compounds, plastics, excavating machinery, computer screens and electrical equipment.

Use of the Financial Messaging System of the Bank of Russia (SPFS), an alternative to interbank messaging service Swift, would also be prohibited, and 52 new entities could be added to the sanctions list, which imposes a travel ban and asset freeze, if agreed.

It is unclear when the sanctions would be approved by member states as previous packages have required weeks of negotiations. The draft proposals could still change, people close to the matter warned. 

The EU executive is also pushing to crack down on sanctions circumvention. European companies partially owned by Russians could be restricted from transporting goods through the bloc, while ships that transport goods that help Russia’s war effort would be banned from entering EU ports, the document said.

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