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When Putin’s propagandists are partying at the Grammys, it’s time for tougher sanctions

Earlier this month, media from across the globe were training their cameras on the Grammy awards to catch a glimpse of Beyoncé, Adele and Sam Smith. But for the people of Ukraine, the pleasure of watching the cream of music talent perform the biggest hits of the year was spoiled by the presence of Philipp Kirkorov, a Russian pop star often described as “Putin’s favourite singer”.

In Kyiv, we know Kirkorov well. In June 2021 we designated him as “a threat to Ukraine’s national security” and he was banned from entering our country after he spoke in support of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Last month, we added him to our list of Russian propagandists who are subject to personal sanctions for their support of Russia’s warmongering. He had reportedly been asking his audiences to stand up and clap for the “heroes”, Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
Now, here was Kirkorov preening openly at the Grammys, posting selfie videos on social media. A few days earlier he had dinner with Engelbert Humperdinck in Los Angeles and visited Las Vegas to watch an Adele concert. How could such a man be freely wandering the US? How is he able to party at a time when so many Ukrainians are fighting for their lives?

Sadly, Kirkorov is no isolated case. On the first day of Paris fashion week last month, Dior was criticised for inviting Yana Rudkovskaya, a Russian TV presenter and influencer who we also sanctioned over ties to the Kremlin.
We have long believed that a key weapon in the fight against Kremlin aggression is an international sanctions regime that weakens the Russian economy, reduces its military potency and targets the gang of criminals who run their country.

We are grateful to the international community for the sanctions they have already imposed. But sanctions can only be effective if they close loopholes, deny exceptions and block gaps. Russia is desperately looking for ways to escape its isolation. Every success, however minor, is seen by the Kremlin as a victory.

Of course, pop stars and influencers are not political or military titans. But they do represent a broader problem of both constructing and maintaining a sanctions regime that applies lasting pressure on the Kremlin. We have had great success so far in stretching the Russian budget, which is running a huge deficit. But the Kremlin works ceaselessly to dodge our restrictions. It has already found a replacement for western cargo shipping and insurers, is building new supply routes through Asia and Africa, and we believe may even be resorting to mineral and diamond smuggling to raise new funds. If the sanctions regime has holes, Russia will be sure to wriggle through them.

We believe that the current sanctions coalition has proved effective, but we also believe it is capable of more. The anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine falls on 24 February, and we are happy that the EU will mark it with a new sanctions package, which we hope will cover some of the most worrying gaps.

Perhaps the most urgent of those concerns is Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear energy provider, which has long been active in EU markets. We have reason to believe that Rosatom may be supplying components to the Russian arms industry. We believe it has also been party to the Kremlin’s reckless and inexcusable strikes on Ukrainian nuclear facilities. Yet no punitive measures have been applied to Rosatom. Another urgent financial priority should be the banishment of Russian banks from the Swift international payment system.
We would also like to see a tougher approach to the barbarians who cheer on Russian atrocities from comfortable boltholes in Europe and elsewhere. Russian propagandists aid the aggressor. They are complicit in the crimes of the regime.

We note that Russian individuals who have found themselves sanctioned are increasingly trying to challenge those sanctions in court. Those who despise democracy are once again trying to turn its strength into weakness. The fact that they and their loved ones enjoy the benefits of the European rule of law while fanning hatred for its values is the real injustice.

The EU’s visa policy for Russians should be as strict as possible. Kremlin propagandists and families of military personnel fighting in Ukraine should not be allowed to stay in the EU. Their visas should be cancelled, if necessary.

This war is not only for the future of Ukraine. It is a war for civilised values and ideas. The aggressor needs to understand that he can never win. Appropriately, one could take the lyrics of Beyoncé’s Grammy-winning song to sum up Ukraine’s defiant message to Russia “You won’t break my soul, you won’t.”