October 2, 2023


Top EU officials targeted Russia’s lucrative oil industry, as well as its biggest bank and multiple media outlets, as they unveiled plans Wednesday for a sixth round of sanctions over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Imports of Russian crude oil will cease within six months and refined products by the end of the year, under the plan presented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Banks including Sberbank — which accounts for some 37 percent of the entire Russian banking sector — will be shut out of the SWIFT international payments system, von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

It is the proposal to hit Russian fossil fuels, income from which helps to finance Putin’s war, that marks the most significant part of the package.

Russia is the EU’s biggest supplier of oil and gas. By April 27, the bloc had imported about €44 billion of fossil fuels from Russia by shipments and pipelines since the invasion began, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Political pressure from Ukraine for tougher action has pushed EU leaders to find ways to end the bloc’s addiction to Russian fossil fuels. The last sanctions package saw the EU agree to phase out imports of Russian coal in the months ahead. But oil and gas is where the big money goes.

“Let us be clear, it will not be easy,” von der Leyen said. “Some member states are strongly dependent on Russian oil, but we simply have to do it. So today we will propose to ban all Russian oil from Europe. This will be a complete ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined.” 

Ending imports of oil from Russia would represent a landmark moment in Europe’s response to the war and a decision that would permanently reshape global politics and energy markets.

The key question is whether the bloc is moving fast enough to have an impact on Putin’s war effort. Some EU countries have called for a swift oil ban to hit Putin hard right away.

But von der Leyen stressed the need to act in an “orderly fashion,” to exert maximum pressure on the Kremlin’s war effort while minimizing disruption to global markets.

The next step is for EU countries to discuss the Commission’s plan, which may change as member countries examine the details of the proposal. Some that are highly dependent on Russian oil have said they want to be sure they will get alternative supplies before they sign off on any ban.

Von der Leyen also proposed banning three additional Russian state-owned broadcasters from Europe, in a move designed to crack down on disinformation about the invasion of Ukraine.

“We have identified these TV channels as mouthpieces, that amplify [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s lies and propaganda aggressively. We should not give them a stage anymore to spread these lies,” she added.

She did not name the broadcasters but an EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were Rossiya RTR/RTR Planeta, Rossiya 24 and TV Centre International.

In her speech, von der Leyen also proposed “massive” EU investment in a recovery plan for Ukraine, noting the war was having a devastating impact on the country’s economy and infrastructure. She did not put a figure on the size of the package.

“Europe has a very special responsibility towards Ukraine,” she said. “Today I propose to you that we start working on an ambitious recovery package for our Ukrainian friends.”  

Cory Bennett, Camille Gijs, Andrew Gray, Tim Ross and Mark Scott contributed reporting.

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