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E.U. proposes ban on Russian coal after Bucha massacre in Ukraine

Fifth sanction package does not meet call for full energy embargo

The European Commission proposed on April 5 new sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. (Video: Reuters)
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The European Commission is proposing a ban on Russian coal — but not oil or gas — as part of a new package of sanctions in response to possible war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the latest sanctions package seeks to ban Russian coal imports, impose sanctions on four Russian banks and ban Russian vessels from European Union ports, among other measures. The proposal will be debated by E.U. ambassadors on Wednesday.

“These atrocities cannot and will not be left unanswered,” von der Leyen said. “It is important to sustain utmost pressure on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Russian government at this crucial point.”

The package does not meet demands for an embargo on Russian oil or natural gas and is unlikely to quiet calls for the E.U. to do more.

To avert ‘new Buchas’, impose the mother of all sanctions: stop buying oil, gas, and coal from Russia,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Tuesday. “Stop financing Putin’s war machine.”

This is the first E.U. move to block Russian energy imports since the invasion. The reason the commission proposed coal, not oil or gas, “is likely because it is the easiest to be replaced,” said Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank.

The E.U. is already pushing to phase out coal to meet its climate change goals.

In 2020, the bloc imported just under 20 percent of its coal from Russia, compared with about 35 percent of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas, according to the E.U. statistics office.

“The E.U. everyday imports from Russia around 15 million euros [$16.38 million] of coal, around 400 million euros [$436.84 million] of gas and 450 million euros [$491.44 million] of oil,” Tagliapietra said. “A ban on coal is not going to hit Russia.”

Von der Leyen suggested Tuesday that oil could be next but offered no concrete plan or timeline. “We are working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports,” she said.

The commission said Tuesday that a ban on imports of coal from Russia would cost the country $4 billion a year, cutting “another important revenue source for Russia.” Some countries may push to moderate the plan, however, preferring a phaseout of Russian coal.

Bucha massacre tests Europe’s red lines on Russian energy

In addition to targeting coal, the package aims to “weaken Russia’s financial system” by cutting off four banks and to impose export bans on items such as quantum computers and advanced semiconductors to “continue to degrade Russia’s technological base and industrial capacity,” according to a statement.

The commission’s proposal also seeks to block most Russian ships and trucks from the E.U. to “drastically limit the options for the Russian industry to obtain key goods.” There will also be additional sanctions on individuals, although they have yet to be named.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the E.U. has worked with the United States and others to hit Russia with sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow and weakening the war effort.

Although a next round of sanctions has been in the works for a while, reports of possible war crimes prompted the E.U. to press ahead on energy, starting with coal.

“We are today submitting a proposal for more sanctions to further cripple Putin’s war machine following the atrocities committed by Russian armed forces in Bucha and other places under Russian occupation in Ukraine,” said Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s top diplomat.

The E.U. is united in its outrage over apparent Russian atrocities in Ukraine, but it is deeply split about what to do next, especially when it comes to energy.

Ukrainian and some E.U. leaders have urged the bloc to impose a full embargo, but major E.U. economies have pushed back, arguing that the cost to Europe would be too high.

Grisly images from Bucha increased the pressure to act. French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that indications of “war crimes” in Ukraine warranted new sanctions. The Élysée Palace later said that France would back an embargo on Russian oil and coal — not natural gas.

Neither Germany nor Austria wants a gas embargo. Austria’s finance minister, Magnus Brunner, said Monday that the E.U. should “keep a cool head” despite the actions in Bucha. Sanctions, he said, “must not affect us more than Russia.”

“That’s why we are, together with Germany, very reluctant about a gas embargo,” he said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the latest commission proposal is “not really an adequate sanctions package to the massacres that are being uncovered.”

“A feeble response is just an invitation for more atrocities,” he tweeted Tuesday. “It could and should be stronger.”

correction

A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of Simone Tagliapietra. The article has been corrected.

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