World leaders fine-tuning Russia sanctions; EU targets Putin, Lavrov

World leaders fine-tuning Russia sanctions; EU targets Putin, Lavrov

Tokyo: The world has made it clear that a military intervention in Ukraine is off the books, so most countries on Friday were throwing ever more punishment at Moscow from financial to football sanctions.

The European Union could yet go furthest as it was closing in on freezing the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on top of a series of unprecedented measures.

But it was unclear how badly they would be hit by such a move or if it would be mainly symbolic.

A decision to freeze their assets indicates that Western powers are moving toward unprecedented measures to force Putin to stop the brutal invasion of Russia's neighbour and from unleashing a major war in Europe.

"We are not just listing oligarchs, we haven't just already listed many lawmakers who prepared these steps, but we are now also listing the president, Mr. Putin, and the foreign minister, Mr. Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

EU foreign ministers meeting late Friday would need full unanimity among the 27 member states to impose such a measure.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that if there are no surprises, nobody objects and if there is unanimity then, yes certainly." He added that "I am personally very much in favour.

If the EU would go that far as freezing Putin's assets in the EU, it would be a unique step in history toward a nuclear power, a country that has a permanent seat on the Security Council, but also shows how united we are, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said.

An equally big move would be to ban Putin and Lavrov from EU travel. But overnight, EU leaders made it clear that would be off the table for now, if only since it might complicate diplomatic moves once all sides get around the negotiating table.

EU ministers have said that even further sanctions were still possible, including booting Russia off SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions.

The debate about SWIFT is not off the table, it will continue, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

EU leaders discussed until the early hours Friday any ways to hit Putin even harder than the two sets of sanctions that it already approved.

The EU and other Western powers like the United States and the United Kingdom have agreed on a slew of sanction hitting everything from the banking sector to oil refineries and the defense sector.

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