STRASBOURG: The European Union’s chief executive on Wednesday proposed a phased oil embargo on Russia, sanctions on its top bank and banning Russian broadcasters from European airwaves, in its toughest measures yet to punish Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
The plan, if agreed by EU governments, would be a watershed for the world’s largest trading bloc, which is dependent on Russian energy and must find alternative supplies.
“Putin must pay a price, a high price, for his brutal aggression,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. “Today, we will propose to ban all Russian oil from Europe,” she said to applause in the chamber.
The Commission’s measures include phasing out supplies of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022. Von der Leyen pledged to minimise the impact on European economies.
If agreed, the embargo would follow the United States and Britain, which have already imposed bans to cut one of the largest income streams to the Russian economy, as the West buys more than half of its crude and petroleum products from Russia.
“We are addressing our dependency on Russian oil. And let’s be clear, it will not be easy because some member states are strongly dependent on Russian oil, but we simply have to do it,” she said.
Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 governments are expected to adopt the Commission proposals as early as this week, allowing them to become law soon after.
Less reliant on pipelines, oil can be shipped from other sources and the EU hopes its gradual approach will avoid an oil shock. Hungary and Slovakia could be exempt from the embargo until the end of 2023 due to their high dependency on Russian energy.
Apart from oil, the latest round of sanctions proposes hitting Sberbank, Russia’s top lender, adding it to several banks that have already been excluded from the SWIFT messaging system.
“We de-SWIFT Sberbank – by far Russia’s largest bank, and two other major banks. By that, we hit banks that are systemically critical to the Russian financial system and Putin’s ability to wage destruction,” von der Leyen said. “This will solidify the complete isolation of the Russian financial sector from the global system,” she said.
Von der Leyen said more high-ranking Russian military officials would face EU asset freezes and travel bans, without giving names. “You are not getting away with this,” she said, referring to the Kremlin.
State-owned Russian broadcasters RTR-Planeta and R24 are among those proposed to be shut out of European airwaves.
The EU’s chief executive also proposed a recovery plan for Ukraine once the conflict ends, saying there was a need for hundreds of billions of euros in funding to rebuild the country. “Eventually, it will pave the way for Ukraine’s future inside the European Union,” von der Leyen said.