A group of European Union nations pushed back against new guidance from the EU executive that they fear weakens sanctions and could allow countries to transport key Russian commodities such as coal globally. 

Member states including Poland and the Baltic nations criticized the EU’s updated sanctions guidance during meetings between European ministers, according to people familiar with the talks. The nations had asked the commission to withhold publication of the document until the matter was addressed. 

The new guidance from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, says that the transfer of certain goods, including coal and related products, “should be allowed to combat food and energy security around the world.” Previously, the commission said that its sanctions prohibit EU operators from transferring coal and providing services -- such as financing and insurance -- to all shipments of such products originating in Russia.

A spokesperson from the commission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.   

Food Security

The commission told member states during the meeting that the clarifications were aimed at avoiding any negative impact on food and energy security on third countries around the world and primarily focused on fertilizers, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private. 

The EU previously agreed not to sanction food and essential agricultural goods, and has reaffirmed that commitment on a number of occasions to counter Russian propaganda falsely blaming restrictive measures for rises in food prices.

But the group of nations were left confused by the proposals and pointed out that the new text contained references to wood, some cement products and coal, the people said. Diplomats have asked the commission to further explain the proposed move, fearing it could go beyond the earlier food security commitments and effectively be watering down sanctions on those Russian commodities.

Bloomberg reported last week that a Greek-managed vessel had shipped coal from Russia to Turkey after EU sanctions came into force in August.