Russia expels seven Danish embassy staff in tit-for-tat move

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The European Union has unveiled a proposal to ban Russian oil imports by the end of the year, impose more banking sanctions on Moscow and cut off some Russian broadcasters in Europe, saying the Kremlin must pay dearly its aggression against Ukraine.

With Russia intensifying its attacks on eastern Ukraine on May 4, the EU said its sixth round of sanctions against Moscow would include phasing out imports of Russian crude and refined petroleum products by the end of the year despite the retreat of some members of the bloc, including Slovakia and Hungary.

“We will phase out Russian supplies of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year,” the bloc’s executive European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament. in Strasbourg.

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“It will be a complete ban on imports of all Russian oil, transported by sea and by pipeline, crude and refined,” she said, adding that “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin must pay a heavy price for his brutal aggression.”

Von der Leyen, however, conceded that getting unanimity on oil sanctions “won’t be easy”.

The head of the commission, however, conceded that obtaining unanimity on the oil sanctions “won’t be easy”.

The measures require the approval of all 27 EU countries to take effect and shortly after von der Leyen’s announcement, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria announced they would seek exemptions to the embargo expressing their concerns about energy security. Hungary and Slovakia are heavily dependent on Russian energy imports.

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, has said it will seek a temporary exemption period of two or three years in order to increase pipeline capacity.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said EU countries blocking an oil embargo would be “accomplices” in Russia’s crimes in Ukraine.

“Whatever their arguments, if they oppose (the) oil embargo, it means one thing: they are playing on the Russian side. They share responsibility for everything Russia does in Ukraine, period,” Kuleba said in a video posted on Twitter.

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.

The EU will also ban three Russian public broadcasters, she said, without directly naming the channels.

“They will no longer be allowed to distribute their content in the European Union in any form, whether by cable, satellite, internet or via smartphone apps,” von der Leyen told EU lawmakers. .

According to a document seen by RFE/RL, the file also contains a list of 58 people sanctioned for Russia’s military action in Ukraine, including the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, a close ally of Putin.

Von der Leyen also offered to launch a recovery program for Ukraine to help it rebuild after the war.

“This package should bring massive investments to meet the needs and necessary reforms,” ​​von der Leyen said. “Ultimately, this will pave the way for Ukraine’s future in the European Union.”

The European Union accounts for nearly half of Russia’s crude and refined petroleum products. But the Kremlin, in an initial reaction to Brussels’ announcement, showed courage, warning that the embargo is a “double-edged sword” and European consumers will pay the price.

“The cost of these sanctions for European citizens will increase day by day,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 4.

Peskov said the Kremlin was considering “various options” for its response to the new sanctions.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden said he was “open” to imposing more sanctions on Russia and would discuss measures with allies in the Group of Seven (G7) major industrialized countries in the coming days.

On the front, Moscow has deployed 22 battalions near Izyum, a city in the east, in a bid to push into the Donbass region, the British Ministry of Defense says in its daily bulletin on May 4, adding that Russia’s apparent objective is to capture the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk to the east, “despite difficulties in breaking through Ukrainian defences”. A Russian battalion usually consists of 700-800 soldiers.

According to the British intelligence bulletin, capturing the two towns would “consolidate Russian military control” of northeastern Ukraine.

In neighboring Belarus, the armed forces launched “surprise” large-scale exercises on May 4 to test their combat readiness, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said there was “heavy fighting” at the Azovstal plant on May 4 and said city officials lost contact with Ukrainian forces at the inside.

Boychenko told Ukrainian television that Russian forces were attacking with heavy artillery, tanks and warplanes, and said offshore warships were also involved.

Russian troops are in the factory’s territory, according to David Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation that held peace talks with Russia, which have now stalled.

“Attempts to storm the plant continue for the second day. Russian troops are already in the territory of Azovstal”, arakhamia said, citing the commander of the Azov regiment, which defends the plant with other Ukrainian troops. He contradicted Boychenko, saying that the Ukrainian authorities had contacts with the plant’s defenders.

The commander announced the storming of the factory by Russian troops the day before and again called for the evacuation of civilians.

Boychenko said on May 3 that more than 200 civilians were still locked up with fighters in the sprawling factory.

In his video speech, Kuleba denied that Azovstal was under Russian control.

On May 4, Peskov denied Ukrainian reports that Russian troops stormed the Avozstal steelworks shortly after the last group of civilians emerged from the sprawling complex.

“There is no assault,” Peskov told reporters, contradicting claims by Ukrainian soldiers inside the steelworks.

“The order was issued publicly by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to call off the assault,” Peskov said, referring to a statement Putin made on April 21 that called off a direct assault on Azovstal because it would cause too much harm. Russian victims. Instead, forces should seal off Azovstal so tightly that “even a fly can’t get out”, Putin said.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak of RFE/RL, Reuters, AP and AFP

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