Europe’s transport commissioner has rejected criticism of sanctions against Russia, arguing they have to cause economic pain in the face of the unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.

“The purpose of sanctions is not doing business as usual. We are in a special situation where we have to act united and try to create economic damage to the aggressor,” Adina Valean told TradeWinds in an interview on the fringes of the opening of the Posidonia exhibition.

She was responding to comments made earlier in the day by two high-profile Greek shipowners, who expressed concern about the new sanctions’ regime against Russia and long-standing Western sanctions against Iran and Venezuela.

“What we know, from first evaluation, there is a huge impact on Russia from our sanctions,” Valean said.

The European Union has imposed six packages of sanctions so far, echoing measures taken by Western allies, the US and UK, and several others, including Switzerland and Singapore.

Economic activity in Russia appears to have fallen significantly as sanctions have tightened, according to available data.

Major Greek shipowners George Procopiou and Evangelos Marinakis criticised the sanctions regime during a panel at Capital Link’s Maritime Leaders Summit.

“Sanctions have never worked,” Procopiou said.

Capital Maritime principal Marinakis added: “I think European leaders are making a mistake.”

Pointing to the economic fallout of sanctions on inflation and commodity prices, Marinakis said: “Instead of penalising Russia, we’re penalising ourselves.”

Valean acknowledged that Europe and the rest of the world face a cost from sanctions, but that it is a price worth paying and can be mitigated.

“No one can say it is also not an impact on ourselves,” said the Romanian commissioner.

“Everyone is contributing one way or another. We have to remain united and send the right signal that when you go outside any international order of peace and stability, and you are purely an aggressor, business cannot continue as usual.”

The European Commission is monitoring the impact of sanctions closely and looking to find the right instruments to mitigate the impact on the domestic economy.

“The commission is trying to find the right instruments to cause the right impact — the greatest impact on your adversary and to mitigate the impact on yourself. This is the right policy,” she said.

During her visit to Greece, Valean met government and shipowner representatives to discuss the “solidarity lanes” initiative to enable Ukrainian grain exports, and the decarbonisation agenda.

The EC is in the early stages of building an information hub to enable Ukrainian grain exporters to access land export routes to ports in northern and western Europe.

Valean said she is sensitive to reluctance from Greek shipowners to accelerate decarbonisation, since it is a new challenge faced by everyone.

But it is a task imposed on all industries by the political will of its citizens, she said. “I would say the best people able to decarbonise the sector are exactly those who are operating in that sector today.

“It is not the politicians, it’s not the NGOs, it’s not the citizens. It’s the shipowners, operators and ports and terminals who will decarbonise the industry.”

And she held out support for the industry from Brussels, which understands the economic importance of shipping to Greece and to Europe as a whole.

“We treasure and appreciate our champions, so there is no punishment or corrections coming from Brussels,” she said.

“We aim to work together to find the best ways to move to the next generation of shipping in a profitable, competitive, world-leading and low-carbon way.”