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EU Commissioners meet for a weekly meeting today Ronald Wittek
new sanctions

New wave of sanctions against Russia proposed by EU as over 150 Russian diplomats expelled

The new sanctions will focus on energy, including banning coal imports from Russia.

THE EU HAS proposed a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia that would include a ban on coal imports and blocking Russian ships from entering European ports, as the bloc expels around 150 Russian diplomats.

The proposal, part of the bloc’s planned fifth wave of sanctions since the February 24 invasion, needs to be approved unanimously by the EU’s 27 member states.

The European Union and US are seeking to tighten the noose on Moscow after dozens of bodies were discovered in the Ukrainian town of Bucha following the withdrawal of Russian troops.

“Russia is waging a cruel, ruthless war, also against Ukraine’s civilian population. We need to sustain utmost pressure at this critical point,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video address.

The Europeans have been under pressure to hit Moscow in the crucial energy sector and stop Russia’s main source of revenue to pay for its war.

Brussels is also proposing a total ban on transactions of four large banks that represent a quarter of the Russian banking sector, including VTB, the country’s second largest lender.

The EU executive additionally wants to expand the list of Russian products banned in the EU, including vodka.

The proposal from the commission will now be presented to the EU’s member states with hopes they will approve it as early as Wednesday.

So far countries deeply dependent on Russia for energy — such as Germany, Austria and Italy — have resisted expanding the measures to gas or oil.

Germany on Monday said gas was still off-limits for now, given its continued importance to the European economy, but insisted that it could target gas and oil later.

Von der Leyen said additional sanctions, including on oil imports, were being worked on.

EU foreign ministers could adopt the latest package, either on the sidelines of NATO and G7 meetings happening Wednesday and Thursday, or at their regular meeting early next week.

Diplomats expelled

In the last 48 hours, there have been approximately 150 Russian diplomats sent home as Italy, Spain and Denmark joined other EU allies in expelling the diplomats today.

The expulsions — many for alleged spying — follow international condemnation of killings in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv, where dozens of bodies were discovered after Russian troops withdrew.

Moscow has rejected Western accusations that its forces were responsible, suggesting the images are fake or that the deaths occurred after they pulled out.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters today that the mass expulsions of its diplomats was “a short-sighted move”.

“Narrowing down opportunities for diplomatic communication in such an unprecedentedly difficult crisis environment is a short-sighted move that will further complicate our communication, which is necessary to find a solution,” he said.

“And this will inevitably lead to retaliatory steps,” he added.

Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, said 30 Russian diplomats were being expelled “for national security reasons” in the context of the ongoing war.

A few hours later, Spain’s foreign minister announced its own expulsion of “around” 25 Russian diplomats.

“The unbearable images we have seen of the massacre of civilians in the town of Bucha after the withdrawal of the Russian army deeply outrage us,” Jose Manuel Albares told reporters.

The Russian diplomats and staff “represent a threat to the interest of the country” and they will be expelled “immediately”, he told a news conference following a weekly cabinet meeting.

Sweden’s foreign ministry said it was expelling three Russian diplomats who conducted “illegal operations” there.

And Denmark announced a similar move for 15 Russian “intelligence officers” accused of spying on its territory, something it said was “unacceptable”.

The Danish government condemned what it called “Russia’s brutality” in Bucha, saying: “Deliberate attacks against civilians are a war crime.”

But Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said diplomatic ties would remain with Moscow, noting that the Russian ambassador and embassy staff in Copenhagen were not being expelled.

The announcements follow similar moves by EU allies France, which on Monday expelled 35 Russian diplomats, and Germany, where officials said 40 diplomats had been sent home.

Also on Monday, Lithuania said it was expelling the Russian ambassador in response to “Russia’s military aggression” and what it called the “horrific massacre in Bucha”.

According to an AFP count, European Union countries have now expelled around 260 Russian diplomats since the invasion.

Russia said on 29 March it was expelling 10 diplomats from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in a tit-for-tat move.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the world to enforce tough new sanctions on Moscow over the killings in Bucha, which he has described as “war crimes” and “genocide”.

© AFP 2022

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