The EU is weighing the possibility of imposing an embargo on Russian oil as part of its fifth set of sanctions against Russia, after its indictment of a "massive" war crime in Mariupol.
Mariupol war crime
The Russian bombing of the Ukrainian city Mariupol has been declared a “huge war crime” by the High Representative of the EU Josep Borrell in Brussels, where European and foreign defence ministers are discussing a new set of sanctions.
Russian forces bombed a children's and maternity hospital in Mariupol on 9 March, causing a stillbirth, killing at least four and injuring at least sixteen people. On March 16, a theatre sheltering hundreds of citizens was struck and on Monday, March 21, a Mariupol art school sheltering some 400 citizens was bombed.
“What is happening in Mariupol is a massive war crime," Borrell said. "The bombings are destroying everything and killing everyone indiscriminately. The use of heavy weaponry against civilians is not a war, but the mass destruction of a country without regard to the laws of war."
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The EU has already imposed four sets of sanctions against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, but the Mariupol bombing triggers yet another response from the EU.
German minister Annalena Baerbock also labelled the Russian attacks as “war crimes”, while German Economy Minister Robert Habeck is frantically looking for gas suppliers other than Russia.
Not giving up
Russia demanded that Ukraine lay down arms in Mariupol at 05.00 on Monday, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been trapped and laid to waste by Russian bombardment. Russia's military said that those who would surrender would be permitted to leave through safe corridors, according to Reuters.
However, Ukraine denied the demand, saying "there can be no question of any surrender or laying down of arms" in Mariupol.
Ukraine’s plea for help
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took the need for sanctions one step further, calling on the EU member states to end all trade with Russia.
“No euro for the occupiers, close all your ports to them, don't send them goods, refuse their energy resources,” he said in a video message on Telegram. “Without trade with you, without your companies and banks, Russia will have no money for this war.”
Zelensky addressed Germany in particular: “You have the power, Europe has the power.”
Borrell and other European ministers urge the EU to impose further sanctions against Moscow, in particular a ban on the import of Russian oil. The Baltic states and Ireland support the proposal.
“We inevitably need to talk about the energy sector, especially the oil sector,” Lithuanian minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a meeting of EU ministers.
Ahead #FAC, FM @GLandsbergis: -Europe cannot give an impression of fatigue while there is a war in #Ukraine. -We need to further strengthen sanctions to🇷🇺& offer more assistance to🇺🇦. -We should take very seriously 🇺🇦 request to start EU candidacy process.https://t.co/hDG06oYIXp— Lithuania MFA | #StandWithUkraine (@LithuaniaMFA) March 21, 2022
“That is the biggest source of income for Russia, and it is easily replaceable given our infrastructure and the existence of multiple suppliers.”
Diplomats have said a Russian chemical weapons attack in Ukraine or a heavy bombardment of the capital Kyiv could be a trigger for an energy embargo.
Reliant on Russia
But an embargo on Russian oil, as the United States and Britain have done, is a major decision for the EU. Russia has warned that gas supplies will be cut off in case of an oil embargo by the EU. As 40% of the EU’s gas comes from Russia, with Germany being the most gas-dependent country, this would bear serious consequences for the bloc.
Countries like Germany warn against taking hasty decisions, given the already sky-rocketing energy prices. The Netherlands also stated that the EU is still dependent on Russian oil and gas and could not cut itself off by tomorrow.
European foreign ministers are considering the new sanctions on Monday before US President Joe Biden comes to Brussels for meetings with the EU and NATO.