EU avoids sanctions on Russian oil despite war crimes in Ukraine – POLITICO

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The European Union will not ban Russian oil imports for now, instead focusing on the much simpler task of cutting less valuable coal, despite evidence of apparent war crimes committed by President Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.

Russian coal supplies worth €4 billion a year will be removed from the bloc’s energy imports as part of a sanctions package the European Commission presented to member countries on Tuesday. There will be bans on Russian ships and trucks entering the EU and tougher sanctions on four major Russian banks, which will be completely cut off from the markets.

But – amid opposition from Germany-led countries – the bloc halts on the verge of an embargo on Russian oil, even though such a move would deal a far greater blow to the Kremlin’s war effort than targeting coal. In fact, coal accounts for only a tiny fraction of EU imports of “mineral fuels” from Russia that are affected 98.9 billion euros in 2021. Ukraine and several Eastern European countries have been pushing for an energy embargo, arguing that oil and gas revenues are the main sources of revenue funding Putin’s war.

However, an oil ban is particularly difficult for Germany. An official in Berlin stressed that a gas ban for Germany was impossible and that it could also be months before Europe’s leading economy was able to stop using Russian oil. On the other hand, the federal government had already made it clear that it would phase out Russian coal by the summer anyway. In a major loophole in Tuesday’s sanctions, ships in the energy sector are exempt.

Pressure has been building on Berlin to agree to Russian oil since reports emerged over the weekend of atrocities against civilians, apparently committed by Russian troops before withdrawing from the Kyiv area.

Scenes of corpses littering the streets in Bucha outside the Ukrainian capital and reports of murder and rape provoked a storm of indignation by world leaders and increased calls within the EU to slash Putin’s oil profits.

On Tuesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined the latest sanctions package, which is due to be submitted to EU ambassadors for approval on Wednesday. Even if the sanctions go further than previously planned, pressure is likely to mount to do more in the coming days, particularly to end imports of Russian oil and gas.

“We have all seen the horrific images from Bucha and other areas from which Russian troops recently withdrew,” von der Leyen said. “These atrocities cannot and will not go unanswered.”

Von der Leyen said the EU’s proposed fifth package of sanctions would “cut deeper into Russia’s economy” but was not the end of the bloc’s ambitions. Work is continuing on stricter sanctions, she said, including against Russian oil.

“Russia is waging a cruel and ruthless war, not only against the brave Ukrainian troops, but also against the civilian population. It is important to put as much pressure as possible on Putin and the Russian government at this critical juncture.”

It is not yet clear how the coal ban will work. Earlier, officials had suggested that action on coal would be phased.

Von der Leyen said Russian shipping will be barred from accessing EU ports under the sanctions, although there will be exceptions for “certain staples” including energy, food, agricultural products and humanitarian aid. Russian and Belarusian road transport companies will also be banned from entering the EU, which will “drastically limit” Russian industry’s ability to obtain essential goods, she said.

The sanctions include further export bans in areas such as advanced semiconductors, machinery and transportation equipment. The package also bans Russian companies from participating in EU public procurement contracts and will include further lists of individuals.

Hans von der Burchard and Stuart Lau contributed to the reporting.

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