The European Union's executive is drafting proposals for an EU oil embargo on Russia, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on Monday, although there is still no agreement to ban Russian crude.
"They are now working on ensuring that oil is part of the next sanctions package," Mr Coveney said of the European Commission as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.
"The European Union is spending hundreds of millions of euros on importing oil from Russia, that is certainly contributing to financing this war. We need to cut off that financing . . . the sooner that can happen the better."
Mr Coveney’s Dutch and Lithuanian counterparts also said they were open to looking at ways at targeting Russian oil, which makes up about a quarter of the EU’s crude imports, as a means to pressure Russia to halt the shelling of Ukrainian cities.
“We are looking at all other [sanctions], including energy,” Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra said, a position echoed by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who has said an EU oil embargo must happen “sooner or later”.
The European Parliament last week voted for an embargo, although its decision is not binding.
The remarks came after Ukrainian troops repulsed several Russian assaults in the country's east, the focus of a new offensive by the invading forces, British intelligence said on Monday, while president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said this week would be crucial to the course of the war.
Austrian leader Karl Nehammer planned to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday to call for an end to the conflict. It would be Mr Putin's first face-to-face meeting with an EU leader since Russia's invasion started on February 24th.
Russian forces were also pushing their offensive to establish control over the southern port city of Mariupol, a key target whose capture would link up areas of Russian control to the west and east.
The Russian invasion has left a trail of death and destruction that has drawn condemnation from Western countries and triggered concern about Mr Putin’s broader ambitions.
About a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million population have been forced from their homes, with cities turned into rubble, and thousands of people have been killed or injured – many of them civilians.
Russian forces have abandoned their attempt to capture the capital Kyiv but are redoubling their efforts in Ukraine's east. Britain's defence ministry said Russian shelling continued in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ukrainian forces had beaten back several assaults and destroyed Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery equipment, it said in its regular intelligence bulletin.
The report also said Russia’s continued reliance on unguided bombs greatly increased the risk of further civilian casualties.
Powerful explosions rocked cities in the south and east and air raid sirens blared out across Ukraine early on Monday.
Mr Zelenskiy kept up his tireless campaign to generate international support and rally his countrymen, warning the coming week would be important and tense.
“Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state. They may use even more missiles against us, even more air bombs. But we are preparing for their actions. We will answer.” he said in a late night video address.
He was due to address South Korea’s parliament by videolink on Monday.
The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said it was likely the Russians would try to disrupt supply lines and strike at transport infrastructure.
Russia’s defence ministry said high-precision missiles had destroyed the headquarters of Ukraine’s Dnipro battalion in the town of Zvonetsky.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports.
Since Russia invaded, Mr Zelenskiy has appealed to Western powers to provide more defence help, and to punish Moscow with tougher sanctions including embargoes on its energy exports.
Mr Zelenskiy said he had confidence in his own armed forces but "unfortunately I don't have the confidence that we will be receiving everything we need" from the United States.
Mounting civilian casualties have triggered widespread international condemnation and new sanctions.
Ludmila Zabaluk, head of the Dmytriv Village Department, north of Kyiv, said dozens of civilian bodies were found in the area.
“There were more than 50 dead people. They shot them from close distance. There’s a car where a 17-year-old child was burned, only bones left. A woman had half her head blown off. A bit farther, a man lying near his car was burned alive.”
The reports could not be immediately confirmed.
Moscow has rejected accusations of war crimes by Ukraine and Western countries. It has repeatedly denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its southern neighbour. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.
French bank Societe Generale became the latest company to retreat from Russia, agreeing to sell its stake in Rosbank and the Russian lender's insurance subsidiaries to Interros Capital, a firm linked to billionaire Vladimir Potanin.
The Russian invasion has triggered a barrage of financial sanctions from the US, Europe and Britain, prompting Western companies to sell their Russian assets.
SocGen had faced mounting pressure to cut ties with Russia and end its more than 15-year investment in Rosbank.
The World Bank on Sunday forecast the war would cause Ukraine's economic output to collapse by 45 per cent this year, with half of its businesses shuttered, grain exports mostly cut off by Russia's naval blockade and destruction rendering economic activity impossible in many areas.
The bank forecast Russia’s GDP would contract by 11.2 per cent this year due to punishing Western sanctions. – Reuters