Friday

20th May 2022

Russian banks, oil refineries to face EU freeze

  • "It's a first answer. It's an initial response," French president Emmanuel Macron said of EU sanctions (Photo: consilium.eu)
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Russian banks and oil refineries are to be hobbled by new EU sanctions in future, as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine.

Some 70 percent of Russian banks will be blocked from capital markets and Europe will ban exports of "unique" components needed by Russia's €24bn a year refinery sector in response to its invasion of Ukraine, EU leaders agreed at an emergency overnight summit in Brussels.

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  • "Keep everything else" back in case of even further Russian escalation, German chancellor Olaf Scholz (r) said (Photo: consilium.eu)

They spoke by video-link with Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky on Thursday, who has stayed in Kyiv, and who told them Russian forces had killed "hundreds of civilians" in the past day of violence.

"This is not a crisis, it's a war," French president Emmanuel Macron told press in Brussels in the early hours of Friday morning.

Macron phoned Russian president Vladimir Putin on Thursday on Zelensky's behalf to ask for a ceasefire. The exchange was "fairly quick" and "didn't lead to any impact, as you can see, because the president of Russia has chosen war," Macron said of the call.

EU sanctions also ban sales of aircraft parts to Russian airlines, go after energy and defence firms, and more oligarchs - with details expected to be unveiled on Friday.

And US president Joe Biden will hold a virtual summit with Nato leaders the same day to discuss new defence measures for Western allies.

EU leaders had discussed harsher penalties, such as banning Russian gas and oil exports and blocking Russia from the SWIFT international bank payments system.

They did so amid an impassioned appeal by Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, who said, speaking from Kyiv, that they would have "blood" on their hands if they did not block SWIFT.

But Macron said the EU agreed a gradual approach instead. "It's a first answer. It's an initial response," to Russia's invasion, the French president said.

France would "step up to the plate" when it came to housing Ukrainian refugees coming to the EU as part of a "coordinated" European response, Macron also promised.

Some EU leaders, such as Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša had made a moral case for firmer intervention.

Sanctions should already include "everything, the most severe [measures] possible", Janša, a formerly Russia-friendly EU leader, said on Thursday.

Baltic countries had also advocated firmer action.

The distance from Kyiv to Tallinn, about 1,350km, was the same as that from Kyiv to Berlin, Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas said, "so everyone should be equally afraid".

"If Putin can attack Ukraine" then "theoretically" other countries in the region could be next in line, Latvian prime minister Krišjanis Kariņš said.

The EU hawks were backed by the US and the UK, but Germany and Italy as well as France favoured continuing a step-by-step approach.

The EU should "keep everything else for a situation where it may be necessary to go beyond that," currently being imposed German chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday.

Speaking in Washington, US president Jose Biden said SWIFT "is always an option, but right now that's not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take".

Fresh US and UK sanctions included an asset freeze on major Russian banks and lists of high-worth individuals.

The US has warned that Russia may seek to "decapitate" Ukraine's pro-Western government, including by harming Zelensky personally.

But Biden conceded Western economic penalties might have little immediate impact on Putin's behaviour, when asked about Zelensky's safety by White House press.

Military response

Nato leaders will Friday discuss sending extra troops to eastern allies to deter Russia from escalating the war beyond Ukraine's borders.

"Just today a first wave of additional American soldiers and equipment arrived in my country," Latvia's Kariņš said Thursday. Canada, Germany, and the UK were also sending reinforcements, he added.

High-level Western talks with Russia have been at a standstill since the Macron-Putin phone call.

But amid the flare in tensions Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, said Thursday Nato had "deconfliction channels" with Moscow to prevent unwanted conflict.

These included a secure phone line between Nato's top general in Europe, Tod D. Wolters, and the chief of Russia's military, Valery Gerasimov.

The US military chief Mark A. Milley also had a line to Gerasimov, in channels which have stayed open for years.

"Deconfliction channels mean that commanders of both the Russian and Nato side are in direct contact with each other to make sure they avoid major miscalculations, accidents, and/or unintentional conflict between troops," Nato told EUobserver.

"This starts at the highest level, and once there is a solid communication there it is referred to lower levels," Nato added.

Analysis

What the Russia conflict might mean for gas prices

In the worst-case scenario gas suppliers wouldn't be able to rebuild their inventories over the summer, industries would have to shut down, and energy rationing may be inevitable.

Opinion

How EU can prepare for a Ukrainian refugee crisis

The Russian invasion may lead to the largest movement of individuals in Europe since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. Introducing these Ukrainians into the workforce could help revamp EU economies.

Opinion

West doing too little, too late over Russia's aggression

To think that Russian companies could until Friday count on spare parts for armed aircrafts, or semiconductors, or oil products, from Europe, as their country was fuelling the most dangerous security crisis since World War Two, is beyond comprehension.

Podcast

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Vladimir Putin's Ukraine war has threatened to be a public relations disaster for hard-right gatherings like the Conservative Political Action Conference — now meeting in Budapest and featuring Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who remains highly-cordial with the Kremlin.

Opinion

Will 'Putin's Nato' follow Warsaw Pact into obscurity?

Valdimir Putin's equivalent to Nato — the Collective Security Treaty Organization of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus — is convening in Moscow next week to give cover that Russia is not alone in its war against Ukraine.

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