EU debates sanctions on Russian oil, new common defence strategy
Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Romania are making a fresh push for the EU to ban Russian oil and gas on Monday as civilian casualties worsen during intensifying violence in Ukraine.
The European Union must avoid "an impression of fatigue" on Russia sanctions, Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said, calling again for a ban on Russian energy imports, starting with oil.
EU foreign and defence ministers are meeting in Brussels ahead of an intensive week of talks between Western allies over Ukraine: an EU summit, a NATO summit and G7 talks are all planned for later in the week.
Meanwhile, three and a half weeks after the start of Russia's invasion, the fighting has shown no sign of abating, with EU member states increasingly disturbed by the violence being used against civilians in Ukrainian cities.
The Russian attack on Mariupol was a "massive war crime," the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said before the start of the meeting. "It's a destruction of people who are suffering incredibly," he said.
The extent of the destruction in Ukraine is making it harder to argue against new sanctions targeting Russian oil and gas, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.
The EU must be ready to adopt more sanctions, Romania's Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said.
Stronger sanctions are necessary to "undermine the Russian ability to wage war," Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said, adding that loopholes on existing sanctions also needed to be closed.
His prime minister Petr Fiala said on Monday more sanctions are the only way to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.
"The whole world sees that Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and that innocent people are dying because of his war," Fiala said on Twitter.
Fiala and his Polish and Slovenian counterparts, Mateusz Morawiecki and Janez Jansa visited Kiev nearly a week ago to show solidarity with Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
EU members in Eastern Europe including the Baltics and Poland have been pushing for tougher sanctions including an EU ban on Russian oil and gas imports.
EU member states heavily dependent on Russian gas, particularly Germany, have been resisting such a move. So far the bloc has avoided targeting the Russian energy sector, concerned about energy price increases.
On Monday the Kremlin warned European countries of the consequences of a possible EU embargo on supplies of oil from Russia.
"Such an embargo will have an impact, and will very seriously affect the global oil market in general," said Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday again called on Germany – which is heavily dependent on Russian fossil fuels – to boycott Russian gas and other goods.
"Without trade with you, without your companies and banks, Russia will have no money for this war," Zelensky said in a Monday video message.
EU foreign ministers are also discussing a plan for future defence cooperation called the "Strategic Compass" with the bloc's defence ministers in Brussels on Monday.
The policy proposal, in development long before the war in Ukraine, aims to enhance military cooperation in the bloc with plans for joint forces to respond quickly to the outbreak of crises.
The blue for common defence policies was a clear signal for EU member states "to be able to stand up for one another," German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said ahead of the meeting.
The bloc must consider options within the bloc and NATO for EU member states to act together, Lambrecht said. She added Germany wants to provide soldiers for the proposed reaction forces in 2025.
EU member states make up a majority of NATO with 21 members. Germany, France and Italy are also members of the G7 group of industrialized nations.
The proposed defence strategy is not fully signed off however. In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland wants an increased emphasis on NATO, EU diplomats told dpa.
EU foreign and defence ministers are also discussing the refugee situation in countries bordering Ukraine such as Poland and non-EU member state Moldova.