US, Europe plan new Russia sanctions as Ukraine warns of more civilian deaths

The deaths in Bucha, outside Kyiv, drew pledges of further sanctions against Moscow from the West. PHOTO: AFP

LVIV (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – The United States and Europe were planning new sanctions on Tuesday (April 5) to punish Moscow over civilian killings in Ukraine, and President Volodymyr Zelensky warned more deaths were likely to be uncovered in areas seized from Russian invaders.

Russian forces withdrew from towns north of the capital Kyiv last week as it turns its assault to Ukraine’s south and east.

Ukrainian troops recaptured towns devastated by nearly six weeks of war, including Bucha, where dead civilians lined the streets.

Searing images of a mass grave in Bucha and the bound bodies of people shot at close range drew an international outcry on Monday.  US President Joe Biden called for a war crimes trial  against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, with Washington, Germany and France promising new sanctions against Moscow.

Russia denied any accusations related to the murder of civilians and said it would present “empirical evidence” to a meeting of the United Nations (UN) Security Council on Tuesday proving its forces were not involved.

The European Union is planning to propose a mandatory phaseout on coal imports from Russia in a direct response to reports of the apparent war crimes, according to people familiar with the matter. 

The action on coal would be added to a package of steps aimed at strengthening existing measures and correcting loopholes that was already set to be debated this week by EU ambassadors. The details of the ban and the timing of the coal phaseout are still under discussion, the people said.

The European Commission is also expected to propose banning most Russian trucks and ships from entering the bloc, the people said.

The EU isn’t planning to sanction oil or gas for now, despite intense pressure to inflict more economic pain on Moscow, the people said. But EU nations are deeply split over the next steps and some governments are continuing to push for at least a signal this week that the bloc is looking to reduce Russian oil imports, one of the people said.

In an early morning video address, Mr Zelensky said he would also address the Security Council on Tuesday as he builds support for an investigation into Bucha.

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“And this is only one town. One of many Ukrainian communities which the Russian forces managed to capture,” Mr Zelensky said.

“Now, there is information that in Borodyanka and some other liberated Ukrainian towns, the number of casualties of the occupiers may be even much higher,” he added, referring to a town 25km west of Bucha.

The US says it will push to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council over the Bucha killings, calling Moscow’s participation in the body “a farce”.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said he spoke with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about Bucha and stressed “that Ukraine will use all available UN mechanisms to collect evidence and hold Russian war criminals to account”. 

Russia rejects allegations of war crimes in what it calls a "special military operation" aimed at demilitarising and "denazifying" Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say the invasion was illegal and unjustified.

Russian forces pulled back from the capital Kyiv in the face of unexpectedly lethal and mobile Ukrainian resistance using Western anti-tank weaponry.

Moscow painted the withdrawal as a goodwill gesture at peace talks, which last convened on Friday. Negotiators had been due to convene on Monday, but neither side has given an update on the talks.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Monday that Mr Putin and his supporters would “feel the consequences” of events in Bucha and that Western allies would agree further sanctions against Moscow in the coming days.

Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Mr Jake Sullivan, said new US sanctions against Moscow would be announced this week.

The US State Department said it was supporting an international team of prosecutors and experts to collect and analyse evidence of atrocities.

The body of a person lies in a street in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 3, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said the European Union must discuss banning Russian gas, though other officials urged caution around measures that could touch off a European energy crisis.

Russia supplies about a third of Europe’s gas, and Mr Putin has tried to use energy as a lever to fight back against Western sanctions.

But Moscow has maintained gas flows through key pipeline routes into Europe, despite uncertainty over Mr Putin’s demands for payments in roubles. 

Ukraine said it was preparing for about 60,000 Russian reservists to be called in to reinforce Moscow’s offensive in the east, where Russia’s main targets have included the port of Mariupol and Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

In Mariupol, a southeastern town on the Azov Sea that has been under siege for weeks, Reuters images showed three bodies in civilian clothes lying in the street, one against a wall sprayed with blood.

Ukraine says it has evacuated thousands of civilians in the past few days from Mariupol, which is surrounded by areas held by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region.

A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross was stopped during an attempt to reach Mariupol to evacuate civilians, and is now being held in a nearby town, a spokesman said on Monday.

West of Mariupol, in the town of Mykolaiv, shelling on Monday killed 10 people, including a child, and injured 46 others, regional administration head Oleksandr Senkevich said.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report.

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