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The EU targets Russia's LNG ghost fleet with sanctions as concern mounts about hybrid attacks

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The EU targets Russia's LNG ghost fleet with sanctions as concern mounts about hybrid attacks
News

News

The EU targets Russia's LNG ghost fleet with sanctions as concern mounts about hybrid attacks

2024-06-25 01:11 Last Updated At:01:21

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

At a meeting in Luxembourg, where the sanctions were endorsed, EU foreign ministers also agreed on new financial support to help Ukraine defend itself. Some 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 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.

After chairing the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that “Putin wants to prove that Ukraine is vulnerable, and we have to prove that we will support Ukraine.”

Borrell said that an agreement was reached to provide Ukraine with 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in July, and a further 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) by the end of the year, to boost its stocks of air defense equipment and ammunition, and to help bolster the country's defense industry.

The money would be drawn from profits made from frozen Russian assets held in Europe, he said.

Earlier, some ministers had 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.

FILE - An oil tanker is moored at the Sheskharis complex, part of Chernomortransneft JSC, a subsidiary of Transneft PJSC, in Novorossiysk, Russia, on Oct. 11, 2022, one of the largest facilities for oil and petroleum products in southern Russia. The European Union on Monday slapped new sanctions on Russia over its war on Ukraine, targeting Moscow’s shadow fleet of tankers moving liquefied natural gas through Europe as well as several companies. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - An oil tanker is moored at the Sheskharis complex, part of Chernomortransneft JSC, a subsidiary of Transneft PJSC, in Novorossiysk, Russia, on Oct. 11, 2022, one of the largest facilities for oil and petroleum products in southern Russia. The European Union on Monday slapped new sanctions on Russia over its war on Ukraine, targeting Moscow’s shadow fleet of tankers moving liquefied natural gas through Europe as well as several companies. (AP Photo, File)

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) — Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich appeared in court in Russia on Thursday for the second hearing in his trial on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government vehemently deny.

The court said Gershkovich, 32, appeared for his trial, which is taking place behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural Mountains where the journalist was detained while on a reporting trip.

At the first hearing last month the court had adjourned until mid-August. But Gershkovich’s lawyers petitioned the court to hold the second hearing earlier, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti and independent news site Mediazona reported Tuesday, citing court officials.

Gershkovich’s employer and U.S. officials have denounced the trial as sham and illegitimate.

“Evan has never been employed by the United States government. Evan is not a spy. Journalism is not a crime. And Evan should never have been detained in the first place,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said last month.

Authorities arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, and claimed without offering any evidence that he was gathering secret information for the U.S.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office said last month that the journalist is accused of “gathering secret information” on orders from the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a plant about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Yekaterinburg that produces and repairs tanks and other military equipment.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Russia has signaled the possibility of a prisoner swap involving Gershkovich, but it says a verdict — which could take months — would have to come first. Even after a verdict, it still could take months or years.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow and Washington's intelligence services are discussing Gershkovich's exchange according to Russian state news agency Tass.

Lavrov also suggested the “fuss” made by “the Americans” about any possible exchange is not helping talks to secure Gershkovich's release.

Gershkovich is almost certain to be convicted. Russian courts convict more than 99% of the defendants who come before them, and prosecutors can appeal sentences that they regard as too lenient, and they even can appeal acquittals.

The American-born son of immigrants from the USSR, Gershkovich is the first Western journalist arrested on espionage charges in post-Soviet Russia. The State Department has declared him “wrongfully detained,” thereby committing the government to assertively seek his release.

Burrows reported from London.

A view of the court building with the words reading, "Palace of justice," on the front in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, prior to a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A view of the court building with the words reading, "Palace of justice," on the front in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, prior to a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A Russian Federal Bailiffs Service employee guards a corridor leading to a courtroom as journalists sit inside the court in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, during a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A Russian Federal Bailiffs Service employee guards a corridor leading to a courtroom as journalists sit inside the court in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, during a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A Russian Federal Bailiffs Service prisoner transport vehicle moves into the courtyard in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, prior to a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A Russian Federal Bailiffs Service prisoner transport vehicle moves into the courtyard in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, prior to a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A Russian Federal Bailiffs Service employee guards a corridor leading to a courtroom inside the court in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, during a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A Russian Federal Bailiffs Service employee guards a corridor leading to a courtroom inside the court in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2024, during a hearing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's suspected spying activities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

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