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After the EU’s seventh package of sanctions against Russia, Ursula von der Leyen could perhaps rest. But when the European Commission President announced the sixth set of punitive measures on Wednesday, she cemented her place at the forefront of Western leaders who have denounced the war in Ukraine and demanded accountability for Moscow’s warmongers.
The sixth package includes some of the harshest penalties yet, aimed at crippling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s economy and the cronies and propagandists who made his cutthroat dictatorship possible – including Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, who repealed his position an effective blessing has defiled the bloodshed in Ukraine.
New measures proposed by the EU include a phased outright ban on Russian oil imports, with purchases of crude oil to end within six months and purchases of refined oil within a year. Some EU countries are seeking exemptions from the deadlines, but the long-term effect will be that European customers will stop buying Russia’s most lucrative commodity export.
In her speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, however, von der Leyen not only spoke with the technical authority on economic measures, but also with the moral clarity that other EU heads of government have at times missed in recent months, such as Chancellor Olaf Scholz grappled with his country’s reluctance to engage in military conflict, or French President Emmanuel Macron, who was embroiled in a re-election campaign and spent months making salacious remarks about hoping to engage with Putin.
Sometimes von der Leyen spoke with steely determination. “First, we list senior military officers and individuals who committed war crimes in Bucha and those responsible for the inhumane siege of the city of Mariupol,” she said. “This is another important signal to all Kremlin perpetrators: we know who you are. We will hold you accountable. You can’t get away with that.”
At other times, she spoke with a focus on the course of history and the need to grasp the horrific implications of full-blown war returning to European soil.
Von der Leyen, a three-time former German minister and supporter of recently retired Chancellor Angela Merkel, opened her address with an outlook on next Monday’s Europe Day celebrations.
“It’s the 72nd anniversary of our union,” she said. “And on this Europe Day, of course, the Union of the future will be talked about – how we make it stronger, more resilient and closer to the citizens. But we cannot answer all these questions alone these days. The answer will also be given in Ukraine.”
“It will be given in Kharkiv, where Ukrainian first responders will venture into the combat zone to help those injured in Russian attacks,” von der Leyen continued. “It is set in the small town of Bucha, where survivors come to terms with the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers against the civilian population. And it is being given these days in Mariupol, where the Ukrainians are resisting a Russian force vastly outnumbering them.”
“They fight to affirm basic ideas,” said von der Leyen. “That they are the masters of their future – and not a foreign leader. That what matters is international law and not the law of power. And that Putin has to pay a price – a high price for his brutal aggression. So the future of our European Union will also be written in Ukraine.”
Von der Leyen did not specifically mention Ukraine’s urgent application for EU membership, on which its commission will soon have to issue a formal “opinion”. But she made it clear once again that she sees Ukraine as a future EU member in the long term. She suggested that the EU should start work on a recovery package that would “ultimately … pave the way for Ukraine’s future within the European Union”.
Top officials in Kyiv, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, hope that at least European Council leaders will vote in favor of granting Ukraine “candidate” status at their summit in Brussels in late June.
Ukrainians recognize that an accession process would take many years, but the granting of candidate status is seen as a much-needed boost to national morale. This move, they say, would provide reassurance that the Western, democratic future supported by a majority of Ukrainians is actually worth soldiers dying in large numbers.
According to senior EU and US diplomats, von der Leyen has had a firm grip on the transatlantic dialogue on Russia and sanctions policy in recent months, becoming the key interlocutor for US President Joe Biden – the woman who calls the White House when America the EU wants to speak. And she and her team are credited for navigating the typical pitfalls of EU discord over sanctions policy, successfully conducting round after round of sanctions with relatively limited dissent.
Wednesday’s speech effectively marked the latest step in that effort, as von der Leyen unveiled the much-anticipated oil sanctions plan about which many capitals, including Berlin, had expressed serious concern despite acknowledging the urgent need to end the EU Reduce dependence on Russian energy and cut off important sources of income for Putin.
The new sanctions package, which still requires the unanimous approval of all 27 EU member countries, will also disconnect Sberbank, Russia’s largest consumer bank, and two other major banks from the international payment system SWIFT.
“We are hitting banks that are systemically critical to the Russian financial system and Putin’s ability to wreak havoc,” von der Leyen said. “This will cement the complete isolation of the Russian financial sector from the global system.”
In her speech, von der Leyen presented ambitious plans for the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine, which amount to hundreds of billions and for which the EU should bear “a very special responsibility”. And she noted that Ukraine now needs about €5 billion a month in aid, according to the International Monetary Fund, just to keep the country afloat while the war rages on.
But it was von der Leyen’s rhetorical flourishes as she denounced Putin and the war that showed the commission president is in a crisis that, however unlikely, would overshadow the coronavirus pandemic if history books are written about her tenure , had found a solid leadership position.
“Putin wanted to wipe Ukraine off the map,” von der Leyen said. “And he’s clearly not going to succeed. On the contrary: Ukraine has grown in bravery and unity. And it is his own country, Russia, that is sinking Putin.”
https://www.politico.eu/article/sanctions-speech-ursula-von-der-leyen-vladimir-putin-prosecutor-eu-wartime-leader/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Von der Leyen speaks about sanctions as Putin's prosecutor and EU war leader - POLITICO