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2020.02.19 17:30

Lithuanian parliament seeks EU sanctions on 'Putin's chef'

updated
Jūratė Skėrytė, BNS2020.02.19 17:30

MPs at the Lithuanian parliament are pushing for Russia's Yevgeny Prigozhin, the so-called Putin's chef, to be included on EU sanctions list.

Prigozhin is tied to the Russian private military company, Wagner, which was deployed in Ukraine, Syria and across several African countries. His plane also landed in Vilnius in late January.

Read more: Putin's regime, kleptocracy, and drug money – interview with investigative journalist Anastasia Kirilenko

The parliamentary committe on security and defence (NSGK) will ask the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry to have Prigozhin's assets blacklisted by the EU.

"The person is known for his close ties with the Kremlin regime, [...] related to Wagner, and we know that he is subject to US sanctions under three protocols," said chairman of the committee, MP Dainius Gaižauskas.

"It has [...] also to do with cyber security and interference with election systems, therefore, we believe that Lithuania should show initiative [...] for that person to appear on the EU sanctions list," he said.

The NSGK on Wednesday looked into why Prigozhin's private plane landed in Vilnius in late January.

According to Gaižauskas, the plane arrived for repairs at one of the companies that belong to the Avia Solutions Group owned by Lithuanian businessman Gediminas Žiemelis.

"As far as we know, it didn't undergo repairs after it turned out that this aircraft was subject to [US] sanctions," the NSGK chairman said.

Avia Solutions Group said on Wednesday the aircraft wasn't serviced as the "client was not verified" and due to the lack of information "about the capital's origin".

The company said the decision remained unchanged even after receiving additional information. On February 4, this potential client was once again rejected after it "failed to provide convincing evidence on the end-beneficiary of services".

Need EU sanctions to take action

Mindaugas Gustys, managing director of Lithuania's state enterprise Oro Navigacija (Air Navigation), told the committee that Prigozhin's plane was able to enter Lithuania as he's not under EU sanctions, and the existing US sanctions do not apply in Lithuania.

Vidas Mačaitis, deputy commander of the State Border Guard Service, said Lithuanian border guards can only check the crew members and passengers at the airports.

"The plane arrived from Sochi with two crew members. They underwent standard checks and left Lithuania on the same day. The plane stayed at the airport,” he said, adding that the plane departed on February 13.

15min.lt reported earlier that Prigozhin's private plane Hawker 800 arrived in Vilnius on January 28 and stayed there for several weeks.

Prigozhin and his Hawker 800 plane are on the US Treasury Department's sanction list due to Russia's war in Ukraine, cyber threats against the US, as well as interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

Lithuania previously failed to convince the EU

"Unfortunately, we heard very clearly from the European Commission that economic sanctions are not within national competence," Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius told reporters on Wednesday.

He said Lithuania failed to convince other member states to expand the EU's economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian businesses themselves should be more responsible, he said, adding that they "might face consequences [in the future]".

MP Laurynas Kasčiūnas proposed looking at the issue "creatively".

"We could sanction Lithuanian companies that cooperate with sanctioned people on our so-called Magnitsky list,” he said. “If some company wants to repair the plane of some odious figure, then perhaps that company should not be involved in public procurement or strategic projects.”

The lawmaker also pointed to the absence of an institution in Lithuania to "hunt for the assets of sanctioned persons".