Two EU-sanctioned Russian oligarchs had applied for Maltese citizenship but were refused, Evarist Bartolo said on Wednesday.
He was speaking on Newsroom, a Facebook production of MaltaToday, just after the government announced the temporary suspension of passport sales to Russian and Belarusian nationals.
Bartolo insisted that none of the 31 EU-sanctioned oligarchs hold Maltese passports. He said two had applied but were turned down due to Malta’s due diligence programme.
The foreign minister said Malta not only obeyed EU sanctions, but was also involved in drafting them. “We also provided information that our counterparts were not aware of,” he said.
Bartolo pointed out that it is “only now that there is a war that EU states realize that the dirty money of the oligarchs is building European capitals”.
He defended Malta’s golden passport due diligence, insisting the country had nothing to hide.
Not all Russians are Putin’s friends
But he also warned against treating all Russians as if they were Putin’s friends. “In the Russian Maltese community, there is great opposition to Putin; they do not support this war, which has been described by Orthodox priests as a “war between brothers”.
The foreign minister said there were wealthy people leaving Russia “not because they are Putin’s friends, but specifically because they want to escape his control.”
Bartolo said Ukrainians seeking asylum in Malta will not have to pay COVID hotel quarantine fees if they have nowhere to self-isolate.
He said the Foreign Ministry has offered to cover accommodation costs for Ukrainian nationals and their dependents in quarantine hotels recognized by health authorities.
The fund will cover people who arrived in Malta after February 24 to flee the conflict in Ukraine.
Bartolo said the main concern of the conflict was the human cost. “Above all, the main concern is that civilians, children, the elderly and soldiers are dying and suffering.”
The conflict affects the price of wheat
However, he said the economic repercussions would also be felt. The price of energy, food, metals and microchips has risen and will continue to rise, he added.
“The economic effects are severe, Ukraine is one of the world’s leading grain producers and so we may well feel the effects. Wheat prices are now at their highest level in 30 years,” he said.
The foreign minister also noted the impact on international relations and organizations like the UN and OSCE.
Asked about Ukraine’s application for immediate EU membership, Bartolo said Malta was in favor of enlargement, but noted that it is a process that takes time.
“There has never been a request for immediate membership, so we are talking with our friends in Brussels, trying to see what is the best way to approach this question. What I can tell you is that immediately any kind of help that can be given is being given.
Tribute to Ukrainian Foreign Minister
Bartolo praised Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba with whom he is in daily contact.
“He’s a young man; he could be my son. He is an admirable person and politician. He has great stamina to deal with so many things at once and stay calm,” Bartolo said, adding that Malta is doing its best, within its limits as a small state, to help Ukraine.