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Top EU officials targeted Russia’s lucrative oil industry, along with its biggest bank and several media outlets, as they unveiled plans on Wednesday for a sixth round of wartime sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.
Imports of Russian crude oil will cease within six months and refined products by the end of the year, according to the plan presented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Banks including Sberbank – which accounts for around 37% of the entire Russian banking sector – will be excluded from the SWIFT international payment system, von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
It is the proposal to strike Russian fossil fuels, the revenue from which helps fund Putin’s war, that marks the most important part of the package.
Russia is the EU’s largest oil and gas supplier. As of April 27, the bloc had imported about 44 billion euros worth of fossil fuels from Russia through shipments and pipelines since the start of the invasion, according to the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research.
Political pressure from Ukraine for tougher action has pushed EU leaders to find ways to end the bloc’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The latest sanctions package saw the EU agree to phase out imports of Russian coal in the coming months. But oil and gas is where the big bucks go.
“Let’s be clear, it won’t be easy,” von der Leyen said. “Some member states are heavily dependent on Russian oil, but we just have to do that. So today we will be proposing to ban all Russian oil from Europe. This will be a complete ban on all Russian oil, transported by sea and by pipeline, crude and refined.”
Ending oil imports from Russia would represent a historic moment in Europe’s response to the war and a move that would permanently reshape global politics and energy markets.
The key question is whether the bloc is moving fast enough to impact Putin’s war effort. Some EU countries have called for a quick oil ban to hit Putin hard immediately.
But von der Leyen stressed the need to act in an “orderly” manner, to put maximum pressure on the Kremlin’s war effort while minimizing disruption to world markets.
The next step is for EU countries to discuss the Commission’s plan, which may change as member countries consider the details of the proposal. Some who rely heavily on Russian oil said they wanted to be sure they got alternative supplies before signing a ban.
Von der Leyen also proposed banning three other Russian public broadcasters from Europe, in a bid to crack down on misinformation about the invasion of Ukraine.
“We have identified these television channels as spokespersons, who amplify [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s lies and aggressive propaganda. We should no longer give them a stage 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 Center International.
In his speech, von der Leyen also proposed “massive” EU investment in a recovery plan for Ukraine, noting that the war was having a devastating impact on the country’s economy and infrastructure. She didn’t put a number on the size of the package.
“Europe has a very special responsibility towards Ukraine,” she said. “Today, I suggest you start working on an ambitious recovery plan for our Ukrainian friends.”
Cory Bennett, Camille Gijs, Andrew Gray, Tim Ross and Mark Scott contributed reporting.
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