EU Proposes Toughest Sanctions Yet As Russia Steps Up Offensive In Eastern Ukraine
The European Union has unveiled a proposal to ban Russian oil imports by the end of the year, impose more banking sanctions against Moscow, and cut off some Russian broadcasters in Europe saying that the Kremlin has to pay dearly for its aggression Ukraine. With Russia intensifying its attacks on eastern Ukraine on May 4, the EU said that its sixth round of sanctions against Moscow will comprise phasing out the importation of Russian crude and refined oil products by the end of the year despite pushback from some of the bloc’s members, including Slovakia and Hungary. “We will phase out Russian supply of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year,” the head of the bloc’s executive European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
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“This will be a complete import ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined,” she said, adding that “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin must pay a high price for his brutal aggression.” Von der Leyen, however, conceded that getting unanimity on oil sanctions “will not be easy.” The commission chief, however, conceded that getting unanimity on oil sanctions “will not be easy.”
The measures require approval from all 27 EU countries to take effect and soon after von der Leyen’s announcement, Hungary, Slovakia, and Bulgaria announced that they would seek exemptions from the embargo voicing concerns about energy security. Hungary and Slovakia are heavily dependent on Russian energy imports. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, said it would seek a temporary exemption period of two or three years in order for pipeline capacities to be increased.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said EU countries blocking an oil embargo would be “complicit” in Russia’s crimes in Ukraine. “Whatever their arguments are, if they oppose (the) oil embargo, it means one thing: they play on the Russian side. They share responsibility for everything Russia does in Ukraine, full stop,” Kuleba said in a video posted on Twitter.
Von der Leyen also proposed that Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and two other major banks be disconnected from the SWIFT international banking payment system. The EU will also ban three Russian state-owned broadcasters, she said, without naming the channels directly. “They will not be allowed to distribute their content anymore in the European Union, in whatever shape or form, be it on cable, via satellite, on the Internet or via smartphone apps,” von der Leyen told EU lawmakers.
According to a document seen by RFE/RL, the package also contains a list of 58 individuals sanctioned over Russia’s military action in Ukraine that includes the Patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church, a close ally of Putin’s. Von der Leyen also proposed launching a recovery package for Ukraine to help it rebuild after the war. “This package should bring massive investment to meet the needs and the necessary reforms,” von der Leyen said. “Eventually, it will pave the way for Ukraine’s future inside the European Union.”
The European Union accounts for nearly a half of Russia’s crude and refined oil products. But the Kremlin, in a first reaction to Brussels’ announcement, put on a brave face, warning that the embargo is a “double-edged sword” and that EU consumers will pay the price. “The cost of these sanctions to the citizens of Europe will grow by the day,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 4.
Peskov said the Kremlin was looking at “various options” for its response to the new sanctions. In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “open” to imposing more sanctions on Russia and would be discussing measures with allies from the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations in the coming days.
On the battlefront, Moscow deployed 22 battalions near Izyum, an eastern city, in a bid to push into the Donbas region, the British Defense Ministry said in its daily bulletin on May 4, adding that Russia’s apparent goal is capturing the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk in the east, “despite struggling to break through Ukrainian defenses.” A Russian battalion usually consists of 700-800 soldiers. According to the British intelligence bulletin, capturing the two cities “would consolidate Russian military control” of northeastern Ukraine. In neighboring Belarus, the armed forces began “surprise” large-scale drills on May 4 to test their combat readiness, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said there was “heavy fighting” at the Azovstal plant on May 4 and said city officials had lost contact with Ukrainian forces inside. Boychenko told Ukrainian television that Russian forces were attacking with heavy artillery, tanks, and warplanes, and said warships off the coast were also involved. Russian troops are on the territory of the plant, according to David Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation that has held now-stalled peace talks with Russia.
“Attempts to storm the plant continue for the second day. Russian troops are already on the territory of Azovstal,” Arakhamia said, citing the commander of the Azov Regiment, which is defending the plant with other Ukrainian troops. He contradicted Boychenko, saying Ukrainian authorities have contact with the defenders at the plant.
The commander announced the storming of the plant by Russian troops the day before and called again for the evacuation of civilians. Boychenko said on May 3 that more than 200 civilians were still holed up with fighters in the sprawling plant. In his video address, Kuleba denied that Azovstal was under Russian control.
On May 4, Peskov denied Ukrainian reports that Russian troops had stormed the Avozstal steel plant soon after the latest group of civilians made it out of the sprawling complex. “There is no storming,” Peskov told reporters, contradicting claims by Ukrainian soldiers inside the steelworks. “The order was publicly given by the supreme commander-in-chief to cancel the assault,” Peskov said, referring to a statement Putin made on April 21 that called off a direct assault on Azovstal because it would result in too many Russian casualties.
Instead, forces should seal off Azovstal so tightly that “even a fly can’t get out,” Putin said.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Rikard Jozwiak, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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