EU prepares to meet Putin next week with new sanctions plan – POLITICO

Brussels is drafting plans for a sixth package of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, with measures to be presented to European Union countries early next week, according to several diplomats.

The new package is said to include some sort of ban on Russian oil imports and could also target more Russian banks by banning them from the international SWIFT payment system, four diplomats told POLITICO.

As the war in Ukraine drags on, calls for EU leaders to cut off the Kremlin’s vital source of revenue from Russia’s lucrative energy sector, particularly oil and gas exports, mount.

In its five previous packages, the EU has backed a coal ban and removed a number of Russian banks from SWIFT to increase economic pressure on Moscow. But as evidence emerges of atrocities reportedly being carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine, Western governments have stepped up military support for Kyiv and decided to tighten sanctions against President Vladimir Putin and his regime.

Large Russian banks such as Gazprombank and Sberbank have so far been exempt from the sanctions because they are involved in energy transactions. But EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Germany’s Bild newspaper said on Sunday that the new sanctions are likely to hit Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. An EU diplomat expected the commission to target all Russian banks, including Gazprombank.

Some countries, like the Baltics, are also pushing for more action to counter Russian disinformation operations in the sixth package. Brussels previously banned Kremlin-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik. The more hawkish capitals have suggested several other Russian media outlets should also be banned in the EU, while others fear such a measure could backfire against the West as the move could be used for Russian propaganda purposes.

In the case of oil, it is unclear how quick and comprehensive a future phase-out of imports from Russia will be. With oil and gas revenues a crucial source of funding for Russia’s war machine, energy sanctions are seen as a crucial next step in the EU’s response to the invasion.

But countries like Germany and Hungary, which rely on Russian energy imports, have tried to water down the proposals.

Germany has warned of a recession if the EU immediately blocks Russian gas and oil. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also urged caution on Thursday. “Europe clearly needs to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, but we have to be cautious about a total European ban on, say, oil imports,” Yellen said during a news conference in Washington. She warned that an immediate EU oil ban “would have detrimental effects on Europe and other parts of the world”.

An oil ban is likely to distinguish between different Russian oil grades and their method of delivery – by ship or pipeline. The need for possible transitional periods to give EU countries time to prepare for a possible embargo on oil imports from Russia is also being discussed in Brussels.

An EU diplomat said he expected the next package of sanctions to be presented to EU countries as early as Monday, after which EU ambassadors could discuss it later in the week and possibly adopt it by Friday.

Others, however, were more cautious, arguing that the European Commission has yet to take a formal decision on the timeline, although they all expect some sort of initiative earlier in the week. “Next week is an appropriate time to collect the proposals,” said a senior EU diplomat.

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