EU support for Ukraine: from Sanctions to Military and Humanitarian Aid – How is the EU helping?
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European Union leaders and institutions have strongly condemned Russian aggression and the violation of international law. They demand that Russia immediately ceases military actions, unconditionally withdraws all forces and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine and fully respects Ukraine's territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.
In concrete terms, the EU is stepping up its support for Ukraine. For the first time ever, the EU will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack. At the same time, the EU is also strengthening sanctions against the Kremlin, as well as the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.
The EU promised ‘massive sanctions’ against Russia: what do those sanctions actually mean?
The sanctions against Russia are the largest in the history of the European Union, and are designed to take a heavy toll on the Russian economy and the Kremlin.
Acting in close coordination with its partners and allies – NATO, G7, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, South Korea, Japan and Australia – the EU has so far agreed five waves of sanctions, on 23 February in response to Russian recognition of the non-government controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, on 24 February in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and subsequently on 26 February, 28 February and 9 March.
The EU has excluded eight Russian banks from SWIFT, the world’s dominant financial messaging system for cross-border payments. Cutting off Russia from the network will cause major disruption to its economy as it will severely restrict the country's access to global financial markets, and makes it difficult for Russian firms and individuals to pay for imported goods or receive payments for their exports.
The EU has also banned the transactions of Russia's central bank, the single most important financial institution in Russia. This paralyses billions in foreign reserves, potentially turning off the tap on Putin's war.
EU sanctions further expand existing financial restrictions, cutting Russian access to the most important capital markets. They prohibit the listing and provision of services in relation to shares of Russian state-owned entities on EU trading venues, and introduce new measures which significantly limit the financial inflows from Russia to the EU, by prohibiting the acceptance of deposits exceeding certain values from Russian nationals or residents, the holding of accounts of Russian clients by the EU Central Securities Depositories, as well as the selling of euro-denominated securities to Russian clients. The sanctions include crypto-assets.
These sanctions target 70% of the Russian banking market, and key state-owned companies, including in the field of defence. They will increase Russia’s borrowing costs, raise inflation and gradually erode Russia’s industrial base. Additionally measures are taken to prevent the Russian elite’s fortunes from being hidden in safe havens in Europe.
Airspace and transport
The European Union is shutting down EU airspace for all Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft, including private jets. They will no longer be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the EU.
The EU has also introduced an export ban covering goods and technology in the aviation and space industry, as well as a prohibition on the provision of insurance and reinsurance and maintenance services related to those goods and technology. Three quarters of Russia’s current commercial air fleet were built in the EU, the US and Canada.
The EU will prohibit the sale, supply, transfer or export to Russia of specific goods and technologies in oil refining, and will introduce restrictions on the provision of related services.
By introducing such an export ban, the EU intends to hit the Russian oil sector, and make it impossible for Russia to upgrade its oil refineries.
The EU has imposed restrictions on exports of dual-use goods and technology, as well as restrictions on exports of certain goods and technology which might contribute to Russia’s technological enhancement of its defence and security sector. This includes products such as semiconductors or cutting-edge technologies.
On 9 March, the EU introduced additional restrictions on the export of maritime navigation and radio communication technology, added the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping to the list of state-owned enterprises subject to financing limitations and introduced a prior information sharing provision for exports of maritime safety equipment.
The EU has suspended the broadcasting activities of Sputnik and RT/Russia Today (RT English, RT UK, RT Germany, RT France, and RT Spanish) in the EU, or directed at the EU.
This measure will be effective until the aggression against Ukraine is put to an end, and until the Russian Federation and its associated outlets cease to conduct disinformation and information manipulation actions against the EU and its member states.
Restrictive measures now apply to a total of 862 individuals and 53 entities: they include an asset freeze and a prohibition from making funds available to the listed individuals and entities. In addition, a travel ban applicable to the listed persons prevents these from entering or transiting through EU territory.
The list includes the Russian President and Foreign Minister, the members of the National Security Council who supported Russia’s recognition of the two non-government controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, all the members of the Russian State Duma, who ratified the government decision of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the two entities. It also includes oligarchs and businessmen active in the oil, banking and finance sectors, metallurgical, agriculture, pharmaceutical, telecom and digital industries, as well as government members, and high-level military personalities, and propagandists who have contributed to spread anti-Ukrainian propaganda and promote a positive attitude towards the invasion of Ukraine.
In addition, diplomats, other Russian officials, and businesspeople will no longer be able to benefit from visa facilitation provisions, which allow privileged access to the EU. This decision will not affect ordinary Russian citizens.
The EU has also taken measures to limit the sale of citizenship – so-called golden passports – that allow wealthy Russians to become EU citizens.
What about Belarus? Is it also facing EU sanctions for its role in the war?
The Lukashenko regime in Belarus is supporting the Russian military aggression against Ukraine by allowing Russia to fire ballistic missiles from the Belarusian territory, enabling transportation of Russian military personnel and heavy weapons, tanks, and military transporters, allowing Russian military aircraft to fly over Belarusian airspace into Ukraine, providing refuelling points, and storing Russian weapons and military equipment in Belarus.
In response, the EU has imposed sanctions targeting those in Belarus who collaborate with these attacks against Ukraine and restricting trade in a number of key sectors.
A total of 42 high-ranked members of Belarusian military personnel face restrictive measures for their role in the war, which include an asset freeze and travel ban.
Furthermore, the EU has introduced restrictions in the trade of goods used for the production or manufacturing of tobacco products, mineral fuels, bituminous substances and gaseous hydrocarbon products, potassium chloride (“potash”) products, wood products, cement products, iron and steel products and rubber products. There are also restrictions on exports of dual-use goods and technology, and certain advanced goods and technology which might contribute to Belarus’ military, technological, defence and security development, together with restrictions on the provision of related services.
On 9 March, the EU introduced SWIFT prohibitions against three Belarusian banks - Belagroprombank, Bank Dabrabyt, and the Development Bank of the Republic of Belarus. They also prohibited transactions with the Central Bank of Belarus related to the management of reserves or assets, and the provision of public financing for trade with and investment in Belarus.
The EU says it will supply military equipment to Ukraine: what does this mean in practice?
Another taboo has fallen, in the words of EU High Representative Josep Borrell: for the first time in its history, the EU will be providing lethal equipment to a third country.
Following a request from Ukraine, the EU on 27 February agreed to mobilise the European Peace Facility for two emergency assistance measures to finance the supply of lethal and non-lethal material to the Ukrainian army. These will contribute to strengthening the capabilities and resilience of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, and protect the civilian population against the ongoing military aggression.
The assistance measures, worth in total €500 million, will finance the provision of equipment and supplies to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, including – for the first time – lethal equipment: €450 million will go to provide the Ukrainian army with lethal weapons and another €50 million for non-lethal supplies – fuel and protective equipment.
What about humanitarian support?
The EU will match the half a billion euros earmarked for military equipment with at least €500 million from the EU budget to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the war, both in the country and for the refugees, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament on 1 March.
In addition, the European Commission has announced an additional €90 million for emergency aid programmes to help civilians affected by the war in Ukraine, as part of an urgent aid appeal by the United Nations. The funding will help people inside Ukraine and in Moldova. This new EU humanitarian aid will provide food, water, health, shelter and help cover their basic needs.
The Commission is also coordinating the delivery of material assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to Ukraine, with offers from currently 26 Member States, which include 8 million essential medical care items and civil protection support. Other support includes items such as such as medical aid kits, medicine, sleeping bags, generators, ambulances, tents, blankets and a field kitchen.
Moldova has also activated the Mechanism to support Ukrainians arriving to their country. Already Austria, France and the Netherlands have offered emergency support such as shelter items and medical assistance to Moldova. On 3 March, the EU announced immediate support of €15 million to Moldova, and an additional €5 million in civil protection aid.
How is the EU helping Ukrainian refugees?
The UN Refugee Agency says two million refugees have fled Ukraine in just one week since the war began.
This means that those fleeing the war will be granted temporary protection across the European Union: this includes residency rights, access to the labour market, access to housing, social welfare assistance, medical or other assistance, and means of subsistence.
Temporary protection starts applying to Ukrainian refugees immediately for one year, and can last for up to three years – unless the situation in Ukraine improves sufficiently for people to go back home and the scheme to end.
Non-Ukrainian nationals and stateless people legally residing in Ukraine who cannot return to their country or region of origin, such as asylum seekers or beneficiaries of international protection and their family members, will also be granted protection in the EU. Others who are legally present in Ukraine for a short-term and are able to return safely to their country of origin will be allowed access to the EU to transit prior to returning to their countries of origin.
The EU has also ordered simplification of border controls for those fleeing the war, flexibility regarding entry conditions, opening temporary border crossing points, easy access for rescue services and humanitarian assistance, and facilitations for refugees bringing personal belongings and pets.
A dedicated EU webpage provides information for refugees leaving Ukraine, with comprehensive information on their rights in the EU, practical advice and links to available support in individual member states. Information for people fleeing the war in Ukraine
Is the EU doing anything to support energy supply to Ukraine?
On the day of the Russian invasion, Ukraine had begun conducting an isolation mode test, the first step to prepare for long-standing plans to connect its power grid with the EU. Effectively, this meant that Ukraine disconnected its grid from the Russian system, and it has said it will not reconnect after Russia invaded. On 27 February, Ukraine asked the EU for emergency synchronisation with the European grid. Moldova has made the same request and would be included in the link. The European Union said on 28 February that it would move to connect the systems of Ukraine and Moldova with the EU as soon as possible.
The EU is also delivering gas to Ukraine through physical reverse flow capacity from West to East. “The first such deliveries from Hungary took place this winter. The physical reverse flow capacity between Slovakia and Ukraine has been increased and discussions are ongoing to extend this to the next heating seasons,” European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson said on 28 February.
The European Commission has also provided Member States with a list of requests from Ukraine with urgent needs in the energy sector. The list covers things like diesel, petrol, jet fuel and generators. Concrete deliveries are already scheduled from Poland, Lithuania and Czechia and many other Member States have pledged their help.
Ukraine has officially applied to join the European Union: how has the EU responded?
On 28 February, Ukraine formally signed an application to join the European Union, followed on 3 March by the Republic of Moldova and Georgia.
A week later, on 7 March, the EU agreed to begin examining the accession bids from the three countries, with the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union (COREPER II), agreeing to invite the European Commission to present an opinion on each of the applications. While the move is technical, it launches the process for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to be accepted as candidate countries.
“Nobody… can doubt that a people that stands up so bravely for our European values belongs in our European family,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament on 1 March. “But there is still a long path ahead. We have to end this war. And we should talk about the next steps.”
In its resolution on 1 March, the European Parliament called on EU institutions to work towards granting the country EU candidate status. As the resolution says, any such procedure will have to be in line with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union and based on merit.
Addressing the issue of Ukrainian membership, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said:
“It will be up to us Europeans to rise to the task. And, of course, we know this is a difficult subject, as it touches upon enlargement. And we know that, within the European Union, there are diverging and sometimes qualified views on that subject.”
He went on to explain the procedure: “It will be for the European Commission to issue an opinion, on the basis of which the Council will likewise have a set of tasks to fulfil. It will have to undertake a serious examination of the symbolic, political, powerful and – in my view – legitimate request that has been expressed.”
In the meantime, the European Parliament has called on the EU to continue to work towards Ukraine’s integration into the EU single market along the lines of the existing EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Since the signature of the Association Agreement in 2014, Ukraine has embarked on an ambitious reform programme to accelerate economic growth and improve the livelihoods of its citizens. In that timeframe, the EU and financial institutions have mobilised more than €17 billion in grants and loans to support reforms.
On 3 March, both the Republic of Moldova and Georgia also made formal applications to join the European Union.
What is the EU doing to support the neighbouring Republic of Moldova?
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU has stressed its unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova.
“Moldova has a right to choose its foreign policy course and we believe strongly that Moldova belongs to the European family. We will continue to cooperate intensively on the basis of our Association Agreement,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell said on a visit to Moldova on 3 March.
The EU has underlined its solidarity with Moldova as it faces an influx of refugees – in the first week of the war, Moldova provided safe passage to more than 100,000 refugees escaping the war in Ukraine, including more than 20,000 children.
In concrete terms, the EU will provide €15 million to help manage the immediate refugee crisis, and an additional €5 million in civil protection aid. Following Moldova’s request for assistance under the EU’s civil protection mechanism, Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Finland and Sweden have offered items such as ambulances, tents, blankets and a field kitchen, in addition to earlier offers by France, Austria and the Netherlands.
In addition, the EU has announced support in the areas of security and defence: the EU will help Moldova to strengthen its cyber security, with an expert mission already in Chisinau to assess the needs and identify concrete support measures that can be implemented at very short notice. The EU will also provide the Moldovan armed forces with medical equipment and support in case of crisis, and will discuss options for additional assistance and logistics, if needed.
The European Union has also agreed to connect Moldova’s electricity system to the EU power grid as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, the EU continues to provide support beyond immediate needs, through an economic recovery plan worth €600 million as well as the economic and investment plan with five flagship initiatives for Moldova leveraging up to €3.4 billion.