BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed on Monday to ban most Russian oil imports, the toughest economic sanction ever imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and potentially Europe’s greatest sacrifice. -same.
The agreement is the latest and most ambitious demonstration that over more than three months of war, in response to growing Russian aggression and atrocities, European leaders have become willing to take action they considered too extreme when the invasion began. They have already banned imports of Russian natural gas, cut off Russian banks from global financial networks, frozen Russian assets and sent advanced weapons to Ukraine.
After weeks of intense wrangling, EU leaders meeting in Brussels approved an embargo on Russian oil delivered by tankers, the main method, with pledges to cut imports by pipeline, according to a draft agreement seen by the New York Times. The deal was announced in a late night tweet by Charles Michel, President of the European Council, although many details remain to be settled.
The approval came as a multi-pronged Kremlin assault closed in on the easternmost city under Ukrainian control, Sievierodonetsk. Russian forces continued their pattern of shelling towns and villages, including civilian areas, reducing them to depopulated wastelands before attempting to take control.
At the same time, the Ukrainian army launched a counter-offensive to retake the strategic city of Kherson, in the south of the country. And a car bomb attack in another Russian-held city, Melitopol, hinted at the kind of fierce resistance the occupiers could face.
President Vladimir V. Putin’s war machinery is funded by Russian sales of crude and refined oil and natural gas, which account for the bulk of the country’s export earnings, collected mostly by state-controlled energy companies . With the war driving up prices, European Union countries alone have been paying $23 billion a month for Russian oil.
Analysts say Russia, offering discounts to prices on world markets, will continue to find buyers for its oil, but sales volumes and profits are expected to drop significantly once the embargo takes effect.
Europe is heavily dependent on Russian fuels – 27% of crude oil imported into the European Union comes from Russia – and as EU countries scramble to find alternatives, officials have warned that the financial cost to them would be high. Other sources are expected to be more expensive, if they can be arranged; gas and oil shortages are a real possibility.
The debate over an oil embargo has also revealed the potential vulnerability of the European bloc, just as Sweden’s and Finland’s applications for NATO membership have shown fractures within that alliance. Diplomats express confidence that such differences can be resolved, but caution that the unity the United States and its allies have shown in opposing Russia so far is not guaranteed .
Hungary’s strongman Viktor Orban, whose country depends more than Western Europe on Russian energy, had blocked any agreement on an oil embargo, calling it an “atom bomb” for Hungary’s economy.
The dispute illustrates how the EU’s practice of requiring unanimity from all 27 member countries for major decisions can become a weakness – particularly if Mr Orban, who enjoys a friendly relationship with Mr Putin, is called upon to take new measures to isolate Russia.
The limited embargo that European leaders approved was designed to win the support of Mr. Orban. Banning deliveries of Russian oil on board tankers would eliminate two-thirds of EU imports, while having no effect on landlocked Hungary. Arriving at the EU summit on Monday, Mr Orban said of the pipeline exemption: “It’s a good approach”.
Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany, which also receive Russian oil by pipeline, were to commit to weaning themselves off this source; Hungary should not give such an assurance.
In NATO, which also operates by consensus, Turkey has blocked the admission of Finland and Sweden, which have been sufficiently alarmed by Russia’s war on Ukraine to abandon their long-standing neutrality. . Western diplomats predict that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been as controversial a partner in NATO as Mr. Orban has been in the European Union, will wring concessions from the allies but eventually join.
On the battlefields of the eastern Donbass region, where Russia is focused on conquering more territory, the heaviest fighting is taking place around the battered adjacent cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, among the largest remaining pockets of control. Ukrainian. After weeks of shelling, Russian forces have forced their way into “the northeastern and southeastern outskirts” of Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that Russia had brought in even more war material from Russia to the Donbass.
The fighting in Donbass has reached “maximum intensity”, said Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense. He added: “The Russian invaders shelled the entire front line, trying to hit our deep defensive positions with artillery fire.”
Amid reports of Russian war crimes against civilians, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has appealed to residents of Russian-occupied territory to flee to controlled areas as much as they can by Ukraine, as millions have already done. It’s tough and dangerous, she conceded, but “at the end of the day, it’s about your safety and that of your children”.
A French journalist was killed near Lysytchansk on Monday when a shell exploded near the evacuation bus he was traveling in, according to Ukrainian and French officials, and his employer, the television news channel BFM TV. The journalist, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, was injured by a fatal shrapnel in the neck, said Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, who said the shell was fired by Russian forces.
At least seven other journalists were killed while covering the conflict, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The weight of the Russian military and the brutality of its tactics have enabled territorial gains in the east, but it has suffered heavy losses, and Western analysts say it lacks available resources.
“Russia has probably suffered devastating losses among its middle and junior officers,” the British Ministry of Defense said in the newspaper on Monday. latest intelligence update he made public. The battalions that the Russians cobble together “from the survivors of several units will probably be less effective.”
Perhaps most worryingly for Moscow, the British cited “several credible reports of localized mutinies among Russian forces”.
Hoping to scatter Russian forces less than they already are, Ukraine launched a counter-offensive over the weekend more than 300 miles from Sievierodonetsk, aiming to retake Kherson, a strategic port on the lower Dnipro in south-central Ukraine. It was the first major city to fall to the Russians, less than a week after the invasion.
“The Ukrainian counterattack does not appear likely to retake substantial territory in the short term,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington said in an assessment released Sunday, but it will disrupt Russian operations in the south, “and potentially force Russia to deploy reinforcements to the Kherson region, which is mostly held by substandard units.
In Melitopol, the Kremlin-appointed regional administration said a car bomb attack injured two aid workers and called it “a terrorist attack aimed at destabilizing the peaceful life of the city”. People protested the occupation in Melitopol, where Russian forces kidnapped local officials and replaced them.
Ivan Fyodorov, the mayor of Melitopol – who was kidnapped by Russian forces and then returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap – said he did not know who was responsible for the bombing, but predicted that “the ground will burn” in Melitopol until the Russians leave the city.
Russian forces retained most of the areas they conquered in the south at the start of the war. But a band of fighters held out for weeks at a steel complex in the southern city of Mariupol, pinning down large Russian forces before survivors surrendered this month.
And in the first weeks of the war, Russian offensives in the north targeting Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, stalled irretrievably. Moscow gave up these campaigns, at least temporarily, to focus on the Donbass, and the Ukrainians recaptured some of the lost territory.
The failure of these offensives and the resistance at Mariupol contributed to a shift in Russian tactics towards a slower and more brutal approach, with little apparent concern for civilian casualties or physical destruction.
Describing the constant shelling of Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video posted online Sunday evening: “They don’t care how many lives they will have to pay.
Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels and Richard Perez-Pena from New York. The report was provided by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, Cassandra Vinograd and Stanley Roseau from London, Carlotta Gall from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.