The European Union has approved fresh sanctions against Russia, including a historic embargo on coal imports, after Vladimir Putin’s troops were accused of “horrific human rights violations” during the invasion of Ukraine.
The ban on coal imports is the first EU sanction to target Moscow’s lucrative energy industry since the conflict began, and is worth an estimated 4bn euros (£3.3bn) per year, the EU presidency announced on Thursday evening.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen first outlined the measures on Tuesday, via a thread of tweetswhere she said the Kremlin was “waging a cruel, ruthless war, also against Ukraine’s civilian population” and that the EU intended to “sustain maximum pressure at this critical point”.
In addition to the ban on coal imports, Ms Von der Leyen said Europe would cut ties with four more Russian banks, including the country’s second biggest, VTB, and ban Russian vessels from accessing EU ports.
In the meantime, the EU said it had already started working on what will be its sixth round of sanctions against Russia, including oil imports.
“The package is very substantial and extends sanctions against Russia to new sectors” and more oligarchs, the presidency, held by France, said. Officials linked to Russian propaganda, military security and high technology linked to the Ukraine war are thought to be next on the list for punishing measures.
The news comes after EU ambassadors met on Wednesday, in Strasbourg, eastern France, to discuss the situation in Ukraine and what action needed to come next. It is understood the sanctions will be enacted once published in the EU’s official journal, likely on Friday.
So far, banning imports of natural gas from Russia has remained out of reach for the EU, despite the European parliament this week voting in favor of “an immediate full embargo on Russian imports of oil, coal, nuclear fuel and gas” by a colossal 513 votes to 22.
It is, however, up to the bloc’s member states themselves to unanimously impose such bans – and energy remains vital in Europe’s trade relations with Russia.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has warned the West for weeks that paying for Russian gas and oil helps Russian president Mr Putin to finance his war.
Ms Von der Leyen has now said that, if not gas, oil would be on the list soon. “The next step we are looking intensively at the moment [is] oil, so to prepare to be able to phase out oil,” she told reporters in Strasbourg.
On Wednesday, the US announced sanctions targeting Putin’s two adult daughters – Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova – and said it was toughening penalties against Russian banks following revelations of “war crimes” committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, outside Kyiv.
Meanwhile, UK foreign secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday called for a “tough new wave” of sanctions on Russia from G7 and Nato ministers.
She said the international community had to increase pressure on Mr Putin “and his war machine with further co-ordinated sanctions”.
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