European officials have signaled that they could sanction Russia’s energy exports after images emerged of mass killings of civilians in Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, said in a statement Monday that the bloc was working as a “matter of urgency” on drawing up new sanctions against Russia. French President Macron said that he would support a total ban on Russian coal and oil exports to the European Union as soon as this week.
Speaking to a French broadcaster, Macron said that there were “very clear signs” war crimes had been committed in Bucha and that, “it’s pretty established that it’s the Russian army” who is responsible for them.
“We can’t let it slide. We must have sanctions that dissuade with what’s happened there [in Bucha], what’s happening at Mariupol,” Macron said.
Europe has imposed punishing economic sanctions on Russia since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February. But oil and natural gas exports have so far been spared by the bloc — partly because of differences between member states that are heavily reliant on Russian energy and those wanting to move faster to strike at the heart of the Russian economy.
But a block on Russia’s gas exports would exacerbate soaring inflation in Europe’s economies, and could tip Germany — Russia’s biggest energy customer — and other countries into recession.
“In the case of deliveries of Russian gas stopping, the situation would be aggravated,” Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing said in a statement. “A substantial recession in Germany could be hardly avoided.”
Yet shocking scenes in Bucha over the weekend — a suburb of Kyiv that was until recently occupied by Russian forces — could persuade import-reliant countries to take the economic hit. The bodies of unarmed civilians were found strewn across roads, bound and shot. Russia has denied any involvement in the incident.
The stakes are high. The European Union imported nearly €100 billion ($110 billion) worth of Russian energy last year. Russia supplies about 40% of the bloc’s imports of natural gas, and about 27% and 46% of its imported oil and coal respectively.
EU leaders pledged to reduce consumption of Russian gas by 66% before the end of this year, and to break the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy by 2027.
Russian oil has already been banned by the United States and United Kingdom, and a wider de facto embargo has taken hold as banks, traders, shippers and insurance companies try to avoid falling foul of financial sanctions. The International Energy Agency says Russia could be forced to limit its production by 3 million barrels per day, starting this month, as it struggles to find buyers.
Some EU countries want the bloc to go further, and have been calling for a ban on Russian natural gas for weeks. One has just taken the step. Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said in a tweet on Sunday that “from now and so on, Lithuania won’t be consuming a cubic cm of toxic Russian gas.”
Germany has so far ruled out an immediate ban but a government minister said Sunday it must now be up for discussion.
“There has to be a response,” she said. “Such crimes must not go unanswered,” German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD.
Finance Minister Christian Lindne said Monday that Germany supports further sanctions on Russia but cutting off gas supplies was not possible right now.
“We have to put more pressure on Putin and we have to isolate Russia, we have to cut all economic relationship to Russia but at the moment it’s not possible to cut the gas supplies.” Lindner told reporters in Luxembourg.
“We need some time and so we have to differentiate between oil, coal and gas at the moment,” he added.
Some fear that Hungary — another big buyer of Russian gas — could scupper any sanctions on energy. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday that he would try to “persuade” Viktor Orban, Hungary’s newly re-elected prime minster and the closest EU leader to Putin, to support a block on gas imports.
“I call on the leaders of the European Union to act decisively, to implement actions that will finally break Putin’s war machine and take its air,” Morawiecki said.
Last week, the United States tapped its strategic oil reserves, releasing 180 million barrels of oil into the global market, to help bring down gasoline prices and counter the reduction of Russian oil supplies. The IEA also agreed to release additional oil from its member countries at an emergency meeting on Friday.
— Livvy Doherty, Chris Liakos, Joseph Ataman, Elias Lemercier, Anna Odzeniak, Niamh Kennedy, Inke Kappeler, James Frater and Mark Thompson contributed reporting.