EU lays out new sanctions against Russia as missiles menace Ukrainian cities

Oil imports, top bank and alleged war crimes perpetrators targeted by new measures

The European Union has unveiled plans to phase out oil imports from Russia and sanction its biggest bank, state broadcasters and people responsible for alleged atrocities in Ukraine, where cities nationwide faced a new salvo of missiles fired by Moscow's military.

Deadly artillery exchanges continued on Wednesday in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and Russian forces attacked the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, the last redoubt of Ukrainian troops in the ruined city and a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians.

Ukrainian officials say 20,000 people may have died during Russia’s two-month siege and bombardment of Mariupol, and that Moscow’s troops have buried evidence of alleged war crimes in mass graves outside the Azov Sea port. They are also accused of murdering hundreds of civilians during their brief occupation of Bucha and other towns near Kyiv.

"We are listing high-ranking military officers and other individuals who committed war crimes in Bucha and who are responsible for the inhuman siege of the city of Mariupol," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

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“This sends another important signal to all perpetrators of the Kremlin’s war: we know who you are, and you will be held accountable.”

Ten weeks into an invasion that has killed thousands of Ukrainians and displaced more than 10 million, the commission is now proposing to phase out the import of Russian crude oil within six months and of its refined oil products by the end of the year.

Several states on the EU's eastern flank want additional time to prepare for the embargo, however, and Hungary says it could only back the sanctions if Russian oil delivered via pipelines was made exempt from the measures.

‘Brutal aggression’

Dr von der Leyen also proposed that Sberbank, Russia's biggest lender, and two smaller banks be barred from the Swift international payments system, and that three Moscow-based state broadcasters be banned from the EU airwaves for acting as mouthpieces for the regime of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin must pay a price, a high price for his brutal aggression,” she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said western sanctions were "a double-edged sword. In trying to harm us, they too have to pay a heavy price . . . and the cost of these sanctions for European citizens will increase every day."

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a staunch supporter of Mr Putin, is also expected to face EU sanctions, in what a spokesman for the church in Moscow called a move that defied “common sense” and made it “harder to reach peace”.

Air-raid sirens wailed in cities across Ukraine on Wednesday evening and the sound of explosions was reported outside Kyiv and in Dnipro, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia and elsewhere. It was not immediately clear if Russian rockets had hit targets or been destroyed by air-defence systems.

Lviv in western Ukraine and other cities around the country were also struck by missiles on Tuesday evening, as Russia apparently intensifies efforts to stop deliveries of powerful weapons from Nato states reaching the Ukrainian military.

"The United States and its Nato allies are continuing to pump weapons into Ukraine," said Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu. "We view as a legitimate target for attack any [Nato] delivery . . . arriving on the territory of the country with arms or supplies for the Ukrainian army."

Kyiv’s military said Russian units failed in an attempt to storm Azovstal in Mariupol, but Moscow said its troops were merely working to prevent Ukrainian troops from taking up new positions around the sprawling steelworks.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times