Updated with Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Parliament.
In another move that amplifies the Maltese government’s inconsistent approach to sanctions against Russian interests following the war in Ukraine, Malta is seeking a concession from the EU on the bloc’s plans to ban Russian oil while Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to address the European Member State’s parliament on Tuesday.
The ban on the transportation of Russian oil on EU-flagged ships forms part of another round of sanctions ratified by western powers in an attempt to isolate the nation that invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
Malta is seeking a concession on the ban to protect its own interests in the maritime sector, according to Infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia – a request that hollows out the invite extended to Zelensky, who will be addressing Parliament at 4pm on Tuesday.
Generally, Zelensky has not held back his criticism of the reluctance of global powers seeking to tiptoe around their dependency on Russian energy.
On Monday, Reuters reported on at least two Maltese-flagged ships, one carrying Russian coal and the other carrying Russian crude oil, docked in the Spanish port of Gijon. Spanish authorities said that while Russian ships have already been banned from docking in European ports, the EU decision to ban EU-flagged ships from carrying Russian goods is not fully in force as yet.
Besides the hesitation to ban the transport of Russian oil, Malta has also dragged its feet on the EU Commission’s calls for previously accepted Russian passport buyer applications to be reassessed in light of sweeping sanctions on the assets held by Russian oligarchs in Europe.
Even suspending the sale of passports to Russians and Belarusians was a decision that was taken only after former parliamentary secretary for citizenship Alex Muscat dug in his heels and described Malta’s scheme as one that ties investment to residency while praising its supposedly robust due diligence. In reality, the scheme was exposed as a box-ticking exercise by the Passport Papers investigation.
Since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine, over 5.9 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee as a result of the conflict, according to the United Nations’ latest data sets.
While Malta had reportedly provided temporary refugee protection to at least 337 Ukrainians who have fled the conflict, the cut-off point for such protection has become a clear cause of discrimination among applicants.
The Maltese government has refused to grant protection status to anyone who fled Ukraine before 24 February, the day that marked the start of the invasion, leaving refugees who left before the start of the war in the lurch and asking them instead to apply for the standard process of international protection.
While EU laws stipulate that temporary protection should be granted to those who fled from Ukraine when the invasion began, guidelines had strongly urged Member States to grant the same status to Ukrainians who fled after the conflict began.
The Ukrainian community in Malta has been vocal since the start of the conflict, calling on both Maltese politicians as well as leaders of other countries across the globe to stop the invasion and isolate Russia, which has been relentless in its assault on its defiant neighbour.
In particular, the siege of the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol has been the stage for a dramatic stand-off in which the last remaining Ukrainian forces and citizens sheltering underground were encircled by the Russian military for weeks on end.
Locally, two protests have been held in front of the Russian embassy. One was held on the day after the invasion, while another was held on Sunday at the behest of the Ukrainian World Congress to mark ‘Russian Shame Day’.
The protest held on Sunday was meant to counter the traditional Russian commemoration of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May.
‘Block their real estate, their yachts, their accounts’
In his address to Parliament, Zelensky did not mince his words, asking Malta’s MPs to “stop accepting people with Russian passports who are formally or informally linked with the Russian Federation”, arguing it is a process which “is dangerous for all Europeans”.
“After thousands of crimes, killings, looting and rapes, it is time to stop privileges given to Russians, starting from golden passports and dual citizenship. Please don’t allow yourselves to be abused, for these people to abuse your island, please do your checks about which Russians are trying to hide using your jurisdictions, your land,” Zelensky told Parliament.
“Please block their real estate, their yachts, their accounts. The business of Russian IT and blockchain companies and propaganda channels – this is not just business but is linked to the aggressive Russian state,” he continued.
The President of Ukraine further reiterated his previous appeals for weapons to be provided to Ukrainian forces defending their homeland and further sanctions against Russian interests and individuals.
“I know that for you and for other European countries, this is a very sensitive topic because the vessels under your flag are also used to transport Russian oil, but each euro, each dollar that you earn will be accompanied by big losses if you cannot stop the food and migration crises,” Zelensky added, referring to how a total blockade on Ukrainian ports is currently restricting the exportation of the country’s agricultural produce and how the conflict in general will generally exacerbate migration crises in Europe.