The European Union has unveiled plans to ban Russian oil imports and slapped more banking sanctions against Moscow as Russia stepped up its offensive in eastern Ukraine and neighboring Belarus ordered sudden large-scale military exercises.
The EU will completely curb Russian crude and refined oil products by the end of the year, the head of the bloc’s executive European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on May 4 as she announced a sixth round of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.
“We will phase out Russian supply of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. “This will be a complete import ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined.”
Von der Leyen did not mention any exceptions from the ban, although Hungary and Slovakia, two bloc members that are heavily dependent on Russian energy imports, have said they are against the ban.
The commission chief, however, conceded that getting unanimity on oil sanctions “will not be easy.” The measures require approval from all 27 EU countries to take effect and is likely to be the subject of fierce debate.
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 state-owned broadcasters, she said, without naming the channels directly.
“They will not be allowed to distribute their content anymore in the European Union, in whatever shape or form, be it on cable, via satellite, on the Internet or via smartphone apps,” von der Leyen told EU lawmakers.
She also proposed launching a recovery package for Ukraine to help it rebuild after the war.
“This package should bring massive investment to meet the needs and the necessary reforms,” von der Leyen said. “Eventually, it will pave the way for Ukraine’s future inside the European Union.”
On the battlefront, Moscow deployed 22 battalions near Izyum, an eastern city, in a bid to push into the Donbas region, the British Defense Ministry said in its daily bulletin on May 4, adding that Russia’s apparent goal is capturing the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk in the east, “despite struggling to break through Ukrainian defenses.” A Russian battalion usually consists of 700-800 soldiers.
According to the British intelligence bulletin, capturing the two cities “would consolidate Russian military control” of northeastern Ukraine.
In neighboring Belarus, the armed forces began sudden large-scale drills on May 4 to test their combat readiness, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.
The governor of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine said Russian troops shelled a coke plant in the city of Avdiyivka, killing at least 10 people and wounding 15 more. Pavlo Kyrylenko said 11 more people were killed in the shelling of four towns in the region.
Kyrylenko said the death toll on May 3 was the highest on a single day since a Russian strike on a train station in the city of Kramatorsk killed 57 people on April 8 and injured 109 others.
Ukrainian officials said the Russian military also struck railroad infrastructure across the country on May 3, hitting six railway stations in the country’s central and western regions, inflicting heavy damage.
Late on May 3, Russian strikes also targeted the western city of Lviv. The mayor of Lviv said the strikes hit three power stations, causing blackouts in the city.