EU aims for Russian oil ban as Ukraine says battlefield assault intensifies

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  • EU proposes toughest sanctions yet on Russia
  • Biden says will discuss more sanctions with G7 leaders this week
  • Ukraine keeps wary eye on Belarusian army drills
  • Russia says NATO arms supplies to Ukraine are target
  • More evacuees leave on buses from Mariupol

KYIV/BRUSSELS, May 4 (Reuters) – The European Union proposed its toughest sanctions yet against Russia on Wednesday, including a phased oil embargo, as Kyiv said Moscow was intensifying an offensive in eastern Ukraine and close Russian ally Belarus announced large-scale army drills.

Nearly 10 weeks into a war that has killed thousands of people, uprooted millions and flattened Ukrainian cities, Russia was intensifying its assault, Ukraine’s defence ministry said, with nearly 50 air strikes carried out on Tuesday alone.

Russia also stepped up strikes on targets in western Ukraine, saying it was disrupting Western arms deliveries.

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A new convoy of buses began evacuating more civilians from the ravaged southeastern port city of Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting of the war so far and where Moscow said remaining Ukrainian forces remained tightly blockaded.

Piling pressure on Russia’s already battered $1.8 trillion economy, Brussels proposed phasing out imports of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of this year.

“(President Vladimir) Putin must pay a price, a high price, for his brutal aggression,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told applauding EU lawmakers in Strasbourg. read more

The plan, if agreed by all 27 EU governments, would follow U.S. and Britsh oil bans and be a watershed for the world’s largest trading bloc, which remains dependent on Russian energy and must find alternative supplies.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he would speak to other Group of Seven leaders this week about possible further steps against Moscow. “We’re always open to additional sanctions,” Biden told reporters in Washington. read more

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the news from Brussels, but stressed the urgency of acting to starve Russia’s war machine.

“Don’t get me wrong, we welcome that, but for six more months the EU countries will pay Russia billions of euros,” he told Austrian TV channel Puls 4 in an interview.

“My position is simple: every euro paid to Russia for gas, oil or other goods ends up as rounds of ammunition in Ukraine to kill my compatriots,” he said. In a separate interview with Sky news, Kuleba called for modern tanks and multiple launch rocket systems to protect territory.

While a number of eastern EU members seek more time to adapt, a source said EU envoys could reach a deal on Thursday or later this week on the plan, which also targets Russia’s top bank, its broadcasters, and hundreds more individuals. read more

The EU has yet to target Russian natural gas, used to heat homes and generate electricity across the bloc, and harder to replace than Russian crude.

The Kremlin said Russia was weighing various responses to the EU plans, adding that the sanctions would be costly for European citizens.

On the war front, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu renewed a warning that Moscow would seek to hit U.S and NATO shipments of weapons into Ukraine.

People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 2, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

His ministry said Russian forces disabled six railway stations used to deliver Western arms to Ukraine’s east. It later said it hit 77 military targets throughout the day, including ammunition depots and artillery.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian strategic bombers fired 18 rockets “with the aim of damaging our country’s transport infrastructure” and confirmed an attack on the railways.

Announcing surprise military drills, Belarus’s defence ministry said they posed no threat to neighbours, but Ukraine’s border service said it could not rule out that Belarusian forces might join Russia’s assault.

“Therefore, we are ready,” spokesman Andriy Demchenko said.

Some Russian forces entered Ukraine via Belarus when the invasion began on Feb. 24 but so far no Belarusian troops have been involved in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and defend its Russian-speaking population from fascists.

Kyiv and its Western supporters say Moscow’s fascism claim is a pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven more than five million Ukrainians to flee abroad.

The Kremlin on Wednesday dismissed speculation Putin would formally declare war on Ukraine and decree a national mobilisation on May 9, when Russia commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. Putin is due to deliver a speech and oversee a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square.

The convoy leaving Mariupol, organised by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, was heading for the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

He did not say whether any more civilians had been evacuated from the Azovstal steel works, where the last defenders are holding out against Russian forces that have seized the city.

The first evacuees from Azovstal arrived by bus in Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday after cowering for weeks in bunkers beneath the sprawling Soviet-era complex. read more

Enjoying her first sun-drenched day after two months underground, evacuee Tetyana Trotsak said she could not stop thinking of those she believed were still stuck in a shelter they shared.

“I’m terribly worried about the civilians and wounded soldiers that are still there,” the 25-year old Mariupol power company employee said on Wednesday. read more

Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said Moscow continued its attempts to destroy units holding out against Russian forces that have seized Mariupol.

“Russian enemy resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant. It is not successful,” it said.

Russia now claims control of Mariupol, once a city of 400,000 but largely reduced to rubble after weeks of siege and shelling. It is key to Moscow’s efforts to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea – vital for grain and metals exports – and link Russian-controlled territory in the south and east.

The southern coastline is, alongside the eastern Donbas region, Moscow’s key target after its troops failed to take Kyiv, the capital, in the weeks after it invaded.

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Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth in Kyiv, Alessandra Prentice in Zaporizhzhia; Writing by Gareth Jones and Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Frank Jack Daniel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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