Monday, July 4, 2022

EU leaders ban most Russian oil, as Moscow advances in Donbas

The compromise deal, meant to punish Russia for its invasion three months ago, cuts 'a huge source of financing for its war machine', says European Council chief.

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European Union leaders agreed late Monday to ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports, tightening economic screws on the country even as Moscow’s forces made gains in the eastern Donbas region of war-ravaged Ukraine.

The compromise deal, meant to punish Russia for its invasion three months ago, cuts “a huge source of financing for its war machine,” European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted.

“Maximum pressure on Russia to end the war,” he said.

Leaders of the 27-nation bloc had met to negotiate the long-sought deal earlier Monday in Brussels, amid concerns raised by Hungary and other neighboring countries reliant on Russian fuel.

The agreement also includes plans for the EU to send nine billion euros in “immediate liquidity” to Kyiv, Michel announced.

On the ground, Russian forces pressed their offensive in Donbas.

“The situation in Severodonetsk is as complicated as possible,” Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Telegram, saying the entire region was under continuous bombardment – “air bombs, and artillery, and tanks. Everything”.

As Europe announced its pressure on Moscow, Washington took a cautious line regarding weaponry for Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden said he would not send rocket systems to Ukraine that could hit Russian territory, despite urgent requests from Kyiv for such weapons and extensive US military aid since the war began.

In Washington, Biden told reporters: “We are not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia.”

US envoy arrives

Ukraine has received extensive US military aid, with legislators approving another US$40 billion (37.1 billion euros) assistance package in May.

Biden’s comments came as Washington’s new ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, arrived in Kyiv to fill a position vacant since 2019, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday on Twitter.

France’s new Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said while visiting Kyiv that Paris was ready to boost military aid to Ukraine to help it counter Russia’s invasion.

France will “continue to reinforce arms deliveries,” Colonna said at a news conference with her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.

The highest-ranking French official to visit the capital since Russia’s invasion began Feb 24, Colonna also visited Bucha, near Kyiv, where Russian troops have been accused of committing war crimes against civilians.

“This should never have happened,” Colonna told reporters after visiting an Orthodox church in the town. “It must never happen again.”

Her visit came as a French journalist was killed while working in Ukraine.

Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff was “on board a humanitarian bus” when “he was mortally wounded,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his “sincere condolences” to Leclerc-Imhoff’s colleagues and family in his nightly speech Monday.

Civilian evacuations from the area were halted after the killing, Zelensky said.

Oil sanctions

Speaking at the EU summit via videolink Monday, Zelensky had urged the EU end internal “quarrels” and encouraged more sanctions.

“It is time for you to be not separate, not fragments, but one whole,” he said.

Meeting participants hatched a compromise deal that exempts deliveries by pipeline from the oil import ban, after Hungarian President Victor Orban warned halting supplies would wreck the country’s economy.

Eu chief Ursula von der Leyen said the ban “will effectively cut around 90% of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year” as Germany and Poland had committed to renounce deliveries via a pipeline to their territory.

The wrangling over the sixth package of sanctions has rocked European unity in the face of the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine after five waves of unprecedented economic punishment on Russia.

Michel said the sanctions also involved disconnecting Russia’s biggest bank Sberbank from the global SWIFT system, banning three state broadcasters and blacklisting individuals blamed for war crimes.

‘We’re close!’

With Russia facing the oil import ban, a Georgian breakaway region delivered another blow to Moscow’s hopes for further unity among local allies, with the leader of South Ossetia scrapping plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia which had been scheduled for July 17.

The Moscow-controlled enclave’s president Alan Gagloev warned Monday about “uncertainty of the legal consequences of the issue submitted to a referendum.”

Since failing to capture Kyiv in the war’s early stages, Russia’s army has narrowed its focus, hammering Donbas cities with relentless artillery and missile barrages, with Zelensky calling the situation there “extremely difficult” Monday.

“There, in the Donbas, the maximum combat power of the Russian army is now gathered,” he said.

But Ukrainian forces pushed back over the weekend in the southern region of Kherson, the country’s military leadership said.

The Ukrainian general staff claimed the move had put their adversary into “unfavourable positions” around the villages of Andriyivka, Lozovo and Bilohorka and forced Moscow to send reserves to the area.

“Kherson, hold on. We’re close!” it tweeted Sunday.

At the same time, two people were injured following an explosion in the Moscow-controlled city of Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine, with local pro-Kremlin authorities blaming Kyiv.

Russia-installed authorities said the city had been targeted by a “terrorist attack” and that Ukraine’s government was conducting “war on the civilian population.”

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