Brussels has quickly come under attack over how it is responding to the situation, coming in for huge criticism over sanctions against Russia many claim are nowhere near punishing enough. On Thursday, Russia launched its invasion by land, air and sea following a declaration of war by President Vladimir Putin, with around 100,000 people desperately fleeing explosions and gunfire rocked major cities. European Union leaders agreed to freeze Russian assets in the bloc and halt its banks’ access to European financial markets in what foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described as “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented”.
Later on Friday, the 27 member states also agrees to freeze any European assets of Putin and his Foreign Minister and top diplomat Sergei Lavrov.
This wave of new measures is aimed at battering Russia’s elite and thwart operations of 70 percent of the country’s banking system.
But the EU opted not to curb Russian energy imports, or cut Russia off from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) global payments system following objections from some member states.
Brexiteer and former MEP Ben Habib launched a furious attack and issued a huge warning, telling Express.co.uk: “We wish to be seen as protecting Ukraine. The reality is that it is Ukraine protecting us.
“If Europe survives this chapter it will be because of the sacrifices made by brave Ukrainians, enticed into harm’s way by the EU and then forsaken and after this chapter we too will fall if we do not immediately relearn the importance of a strong military.
“European heads of state, including our own, chose instead to bang their chests threatening the mother of all sanctions. What they delivered was a whimper.
“So weak has Europe become that it excluded Russian gas and all banks associated with its supply from the sanctions package.
“The only entities sanctioned are ones that actually do not matter. The sanctions are largely symbolic. Russia will not notice them.
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Following the announcement of the first set of punishments, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the sanctions will severely limit Russia’s access to financial markets and would increase the country’s and send inflation surging.
She also warned curbs on exports will eventually damage its oil sector by stopping access to material it needs from the EU for its oil refineries which will, over time, trigger a depletion in Russia’s oil refining revenues.
But the failure to remove Russia from SWIFT has sparked fury with French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, hosting a meeting of EU counterparts in Paris on Friday to discuss the economic consequences insisting it remains an option, but only as a last resort.
He said some EU member states – but not France – have reservations about making such a step.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had earlier demands the West impose tougher sanctions on Russia and support support fending off the Russian invasion as several cities were hit by air strikes.
Following talks with Boris Johnson on Friday morning, the Ukrainian leader also called for allies to provide “effective counteraction” against Moscow’s advances.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister promised Mr Zelenskyy further support “in the coming days”.
But in a message to the world, the Ukrainian President warned: “We demand effective counteraction to the Russian Federation. Sanctions must be further strengthened.”