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European Union backs new Russia sanctions including on coal imports

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

European Union countries on have approved new sanctions against Russia, including an EU embargo on coal imports in the wake of evidence of torture and killings emerging from war zones outside Kyiv.

The ban on coal imports will be the first EU sanctions targeting Russia’s lucrative energy industry over its war in Ukraine and is estimated to be worth 4 billion euros (£3.3 billion) per year, the EU presidency, held by France, announced.

In the meantime, the EU has already started working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports.

“The package is very substantial and extends sanctions against Russia to new sectors” and more oligarchs, the presidency said, mentioning officials linked to propaganda, military security and high-technology linked to the Ukraine war.

The deal was given the final political go-ahead in a meeting of EU ambassadors and will be enacted once published in the EU’s official journal, likely on Friday.

So far, banning natural gas has remained out of reach, but not because of lack of support from the European parliament.

The legislature approved a resolution by a 513—22 margin — with 19 abstentions — demanding “an immediate full embargo on Russian imports of oil, coal, nuclear fuel and gas”.

Even if the move underscores the EU’s determination to act against the Kremlin, it carried little more than moral weight, since it is up to the member states themselves to unanimously impose such bans.

And energy is key in Europe’s trade relations with Russia. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has said that the 27-nation bloc is paying a billion euros a day for energy provisions, accounting for over 35 billion euros since the war started.

Late Thursday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that, if not gas, oil would be on the list soon.

“The next step we are looking intensively at the moment (is) oil, so to prepare to be able to phase out oil,” she told reporters.

On Wednesday, the United States announced sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters and said it was toughening penalties against Russian banks in retaliation for “war crimes” in Ukraine.

The moves against Sberbank and Alfa Bank prohibit assets from touching the US financial system and bar Americans from doing business with those institutions.