German vice chancellor: EU should target Russian oligarchs as it raises pressure over Ukraine

BERLIN – Europe should take aim at rich businesspeople who support Russia’s government as it increases pressure on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, Germany’s vice chancellor said Sunday.

European Union foreign ministers last week ordered the preparation of stepped-up sanctions, frustrated over Russia’s refusal to heed EU demands to help bring about an end to the fighting in Ukraine, and outraged by the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane over eastern Ukraine.

“We should now target those on whose shoulders the Russian government stands: the oligarchs, the billionaires,” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany’s economy minister, told ARD television. “They want their fancy houses in Western European capitals. They have their money in accounts there.”

He argued that their accounts should be frozen if they are “hidden in a Cypriot bank, a Maltese one or elsewhere” in order to show them that “they have no place in Europe” if they back a government that allows violence to flourish. Gabriel didn’t name any specific people.

The EU has yet to finalize further sanctions. Measures in the defence sector would likely only target future deals, with France in particular defending a contract to sell two helicopter carriers.

Gabriel criticized that. “I find it a slightly difficult compromise to say this is only possible for the future,” he said.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the weekly Der Spiegel that the burdens to European countries of tougher economic sanctions should be shared fairly.

He said there should be measures “that can quickly be sharpened again, but also quickly reversed if Russia moves.”