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An oil refinery is seen in this file photograph. Picture: REUTERS
An oil refinery is seen in this file photograph. Picture: REUTERS

Kyiv/Brussels — The EU proposed its toughest sanctions yet against Russia on Wednesday, including a phased oil embargo, as Ukraine came under further heavy Russian bombardment and nervously monitored large-scale army drills in neighbouring Belarus, a close Moscow ally.

Nearly 10 weeks into a war that has killed thousands of people, uprooted millions more and flattened cities and towns in the east and south of the county, Russia also stepped up attacks on targets in western Ukraine, partly to disrupt Western arms deliveries.

A new convoy of buses began evacuating more civilians from the devastated southeastern port city of Mariupol, which has experienced 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, the European Commission proposed phasing out supplies of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022. The price of Brent crude jumped 3% to more than $108 a barrel after the news.

The plan, if agreed by EU governments, would be a watershed for the world’s largest trading bloc, which remains dependent on Russian energy and must find alternative supplies. Hungary and Slovakia want to be exempted from the ban for now, sources said.

"[President Vladimir] Putin must pay a price, a high price, for his brutal aggression,” EC chief Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, to applause from lawmakers.

She also announced sanctions targeting Russia’s largest bank Sberbank, two other lenders, three state broadcasters as well as army officers and other individuals accused of war crimes.

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

The Kremlin said Russia was looking at various options in response to the EU plans, adding that the sanctions would greatly increase costs for European citizens.

‘We are ready’

On the war front, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said his military forces would consider Nato transport carrying weapons in Ukraine, which isn’t a member of the alliance, as targets to be destroyed, RIA news agency reported. Nato says individual member states are sending military supplies but not troops.

“The US and its Nato allies are continuing to pump weapons into Ukraine,” Shoigu told a conference of defence ministry officials.

His comments came after the ministry said it had disabled six railway stations in Ukraine that were used to supply Ukrainian forces with Western-made arms. The claim couldn’t be verified and there was no immediate reaction from Kyiv.

The ministry also said it had hit 40 Ukrainian military targets, including four ammunition and artillery depots.

Russia published what it said was video footage of two Kalibr cruise missiles being launched from the Black Sea and said they had hit unspecified ground targets in Ukraine.

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

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

The Kremlin on Wednesday dismissed speculation that Putin would 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 2. Putin is due to deliver a speech and oversee a military parade on Moscow's Red Square.

Reuters

 

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