Ukraine seeks ‘ruinous’ sanctions on Russia as its forces pound east and south
LVIV, Ukraine, April 7 (Reuters) - Ukraine renewed a call on Thursday for financial sanctions crippling enough to force Moscow to end the war and its officials rushed to evacuate civilians from cities and towns in the east and south pounded by Russian artillery and missiles.
The democratic world must stop buying Russian oil and cut off Russian banks from the international finance system, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, adding that economic concerns should not come above punishment for civilian killings that the West condemns as war crimes.
“Once and for all, we can teach Russia and any other potential aggressors that those who choose war always lose,” Zelenskiy said in an address to Greek parliament. “Those who blackmail Europe with economic and energy crisis always lose.”
Washington announced new measures including sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters and a major bank. However, the European Union failed to approve a new round of measures including a ban on Russian coal on Wednesday. Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said the package could be passed on Thursday or Friday.
Speaking at a NATO meeting, Borrell said the EU would discuss an embargo on Russian oil, adding he hoped it would come soon. In a symbolic move, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on Thursday on suspending Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The pressure to tighten sanctions follows international condemnation of apparent executions of civilians in the streets of Bucha, a town northeast of the capital Kyiv and recaptured from Russian invaders, along with signs Russia is preparing for an offensive in the south and east of the country.
After they pulled out from areas near Kyiv, Russian forces were now regrouping to gain full control over the eastern breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukrainian officials say. The besieged southern port of Mariupol, whose mayor said over 100,000 were still trapped, was also a target.
“Evacuate! The chances of saving yourself and your family from Russian death are dwindling every day,” said Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region.
Deputy Prime Minister Irena Vereshchuk said 10 evacuation corridors were agreed on Thursday, but said Mariupol residents would need their own vehicles to leave.
Russia says it is engaged in a “special military operation” designed to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine, which Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext for its invasion.
The six-week-long war has forced over 4 million Ukrainians to flee abroad, killed or injured thousands, left a quarter of the population homeless, turned cities into rubble and set off Western restrictions targeting Russian elites and the economy.
SHOT IN THE FOREHEAD
Western policymakers have denounced the killings in Bucha as war crimes, and Ukrainian officials say a mass grave by a church there contained between 150 and 300 bodies.
Reuters reporters saw the body of a man with a rope tied around his feet and a charred hole in his forehead in the town on Wednesday, one of at least five victims shot through the head documented by the news organisation.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians and says images of bodies in Bucha were staged to justify more sanctions against Moscow and derail peace talks.
The German government has indications that Russia was involved in the killing of civilians in Bucha based on satellite images, a security source said on Thursday.
Media outlets including Reuters have seen satellite images released by a private security company that appear to show bodies in the town while it was still occupied by Russia.
Ukraine says its allies must go further to stop Moscow’s war machine, calling for a total ban on energy imports from Russia, halting any supplies Russia could use in weapons production, and more arms deliveries for its army.
“Sanctions against Russia must be ruinous enough for us to end this terrible war,” the head of Ukraine’s presidential office Andriy Yermak said late on Wednesday.
While Washington took more steps to isolate Russia, sanctioning lenders SberbankSBER.MM and Alfa Bank, banning U.S. investment there and calling for its expulsion from the Group of 20 major economies, Europe grappled with the challenge of extending its sanctions into the sensitive energy sector.
The approval of the latest package of European Union sanctions targeting almost 20 billion euros ($21.78 billion) in trade got delayed because Germany wanted more time to implement a full ban on Russian coal, an EU source said. The ban could be approved on Thursday but would not take effect until August, a month later than previously proposed.
Britain also froze Sberbank’s assets, and said it would ban imports of Russian coal, but not until the end of the year.
While the EU executive has said it will take up a ban on Russian crude imports next, that will require an even greater balancing act for the bloc where Russian gas accounts for about 40% of its gas consumption and about a third of crude imports.
As first to break ranks with the rest of the EU, Hungary said it was prepared to eschew Brussels’ guidance and meet a Russian demand to pay roubles for its gas, in what Ukraine described as an “unfriendly act.”
By Natalia Zinets.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Michael Perry and Frank Jack Daniel)