Brussels: The European Union’s top official Wednesday called on the 27-nation bloc to ban oil imports from Russia in a sixth package of sanctions targeting Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
European Commission President Ursula 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.
Von der Leyen, addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, called on the EU’s member nations to phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.
“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,” von der Leyen said.
The proposals need to be unanimously approved to take effect and are likely to be the subject of fierce debate. Von der Leyen conceded that getting all 27 member countries — some of them landlocked and highly dependent on Russia for energy supplies — to agree on oil sanctions “will not be easy.”
If approved, the ban on oil imports will be the second package of EU sanctions targeting Russia’s lucrative energy industry over its war in Ukraine that President Vladimir Putin started on Feb. 24. In addition to sanctions on various entities and individuals — including Putin himself and members of his family — the bloc previously approved an embargo on coal imports.
The EU has started discussions on a possible natural gas embargo, but consensus among member countries on targeting the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes is more difficult to secure.
Hungary and Slovakia have already said they wouldn’t take part in any oil sanctions, but von der Leyen didn’t elaborate on whether they would receive an exemption from the sanctions, although this appears likely.
Von der Leyen also said that the EU should target high-ranking military officers and others “who committed war crimes in Bucha,” a suburb of the capital Kyiv. Ukrainian officials have alleged that retreating Russian troops carried out mass killings of civilians in Bucha.
“This sends another important signal to all perpetrators of the Kremlin’s war: We know who you are. We will hold you accountable. You’re not getting away with this,” von der Leyen told the lawmakers.
Banks are also in the EU executive arm’s sights, and notably Sberbank. Von der Leyen said the aim is that “we de-SWIFT Sberbank.” SWIFT is the major global system for financial transfers.
Von der Leyen said Sberbank holds around 37% of the Russian banking sector.
“And we will also de-SWIFT two other major banks in Russia. By that, we hit banks that are systemically critical to the Russian financial system and Putin’s ability to wage destruction,” she said.
Von der Leyen added that those alleged to be spreading disinformation about the war in Ukraine would be targeted.
“We are banning three big Russian state-owned broadcasters from our airwaves. They will not be allowed to distribute their content anymore in the EU, in whatever shape or form be it on cable, via satellite, on the internet or via smartphone apps.”
She didn’t name the broadcasters directly, but branded the television channels “as mouthpieces that amplify Putin´s lies and propaganda aggressively. We should not give them a stage anymore to spread these lies.”