Ukraine Wants EU to Scrap Medicine Exemption for Russia Sanctions

Kyiv is looking to punish European pharmaceutical companies that are still doing business in Russia

Ukraine is threatening to punish European pharmaceutical companies that are still operating in Russia and wants EU sanctions on Russia to apply to medicine, POLITICO reported in December.

The EU has imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Russia but has exempted medicines due to humanitarian concerns. The report said that the exemption hasn’t “sat well” with Ukraine as Kyiv wants Russia under a total embargo.

The Ukrainian government has taken some steps toward punishing the European pharmaceutical companies over their business in Russia by granting itself the power to ban medicines from the Ukrainian market. The idea is to prohibit the sale of any goods produced by pharmaceutical companies that haven’t left Russia.

So far, Ukraine has taken action against one company, Gedeon Richter, which is based in Hungary. In October, Ukraine’s Health Ministry said 35 medicines produced by the Hungarian company were being temporarily banned, although the POLITICO report said the products haven’t been officially pulled from the market.

Responding to the move, Gedeon Richter said it was “incomprehensible” and warned it endangered the supply of medicine to the Ukrainian people. Ukrainian officials insist the war-torn country has enough alternatives on the market so Ukrainians won’t have to go without medicine.

Brussels is not happy with Ukraine’s position and fears the country is trying to weaponize medicine while also hurting European business interests. According to a document obtained by POLITICO, Ukraine has named a total of 19 companies that it could target, the majority of which are based in the EU.

Sanctions imposed by the US and its allies typically have exemptions for medicine and food, although the policies still cause shortages of the goods as sanctions can discourage companies from doing business with a country altogether. For example, sanctions on Iran are said to have exemptions for humanitarian goods, but they have still caused medicine shortages and increased food insecurity in the country.

Taras Kachka, Ukraine’s deputy economy minister, acknowledged in comments to POLITICO that there is a moral question about sanctioning medicine but still called for a full embargo on Russia.

“There is a big debate about to what extent it is moral [for pharmaceutical companies] to withdraw from Russia, because it’s a matter of life and death,” he said. “For us it is, as well, a matter of life and death. And we advocate for the fullest possible embargo on Russian products and economic activity in Russia.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously called for the collective punishment of Russians for the war launched by President Vladimir Putin. When he demanded Western countries ban all Russian travelers, Zelensky said the “whole population” of Russia was at fault for the invasion.

Kachka and other Ukrainian officials downplayed the idea that Kyiv and Brussels were at odds over the pharmaceutical issues, but the POLITICO report said it’s not resolved. The threats to prohibit European medicines have received criticism from Ukraine’s anti-corruption body, which warned Ukrainian drug makers could bribe the government to ban its competitors.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.