In significant development Germany said it was prepared to back an immediate European Union embargo on Russian oil, possibly paving the way of imposing such a ban within days, while efforts to evacuate civilians from devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol ran into delays.
Two senior ministers in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government on Monday said Germany would be ready to back an immediate European Union ban on Russian oil imports. They also added that Europe’s biggest economy could weather shortages and price hikes.
The comments by finance minister Christian Lindner and economy minister Robert Habeck are the latest sign Mr Sholz has shifted from his cautious approach toward Russia and is willing to back sanctions even at the expense of domestic economic costs.
Speaking in Brussels, Mr Habeck of the Greens said Germany would back an EU ban.
“Germany is not against an oil ban on Russia. Of course it is a heavy load to bear but we would be ready to do that,” said Mr Habeck.
Germany cut the share of Russian oil it uses to 12 per cent from 35 per cent before Russia invaded Ukraine. It is working on finding alternative fuel supplies, most urgently for the Russian oil that comes by pipeline to a refinery in Schwedt operated by Russian state company Rosneft.
Mr Lindner of the pro-business Free Democrats said the German economy could tolerate an immediate ban.
“With coal and oil, it is possible to forgo Russian imports now,” he said. “It can’t be ruled out that fuel prices could rise.”
To keep the bloc united, the EU executive may offer Hungary and Slovakia exemptions or transition periods and phase in the ban by the year-end.
Meanwhile, efforts to evacuate more civilians from the devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol ran into delays on Monday and hundreds of people remained trapped in the Azovstal steel works, the last stronghold of resistance to the Russian siege.
It was unclear what was causing the hold-up although a city official said earlier that Russian forces had on Sunday resumed shelling the plant after a convoy of buses had left.
The plight of civilians trapped in Mariupol has been a focus of humanitarian concern as the war has ground on into a third month. Thousands are believed to have been killed and those still stuck in the besieged Azovstal complex, whose network of bunkers and tunnels has provided shelter, were running out of water, food and medicine.
On the battlefield a Russian rocket strike hit a strategically important bridge across the Dniester estuary in the Odesa region of southwest Ukraine, authorities said. Russia’s defence ministry said it had carried out a missile strike on a military airfield near the port of Odesa, destroying a runway and a hangar with western-supplied weapons and ammunition.
Ukraine has formally closed its four Black and Azov sea ports, which Russian forces have captured "until the restoration of control", said the Ukrainian agriculture ministry. A Ukrainian Bayraktar drone destroyed two Russian Raptor-class patrol ships in the Black Sea, according to the country's military chief.
The UN human rights office said the civilian death toll since the start of the Russian invasion had exceeded 3,000 people.
"I don't even want to speak about what's happening with the people living in Popasna, Rubizhne and Novotoshkivske right now," said Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai. "These cities simply don't exist anymore. They have completely destroyed them."
It was not possible to immediately verify reports of battlefield developments. – Reuters