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The European Union will agree to impose its first sanctions against Russia’s energy sector by the end of this week, giving leading officials something to show Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when they travel to Kyiv, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said on Thursday.
On another critical day of diplomacy in Brussels, Josep Borrell said he expected the EU’s fifth sanctions package, which would ban imports of Russian coal and stop many Russian ships from docking at European ports, would be signed off on Thursday or Friday.
It came after the horrors discovered in the Ukrainian town of Bucha when it was abandoned by Russian forces pushed the EU into softening its earlier opposition to an energy embargo.
A potential second phase of energy sanctions, targeting oil, will be discussed next week after Mr Borrell said the EU’s energy imports had financed Russia to the tune of €35 billion ($38bn) since the war began on February 24 – dwarfing the bloc's €1bn of military aid to Ukraine.
Kyiv wants its allies to complete the set by targeting gas deliveries, for which Europe is particularly reliant on Russia.
“I hope we will never face a situation again when to step up the sanctions pressure, you need atrocities like Bucha to be revealed,” said Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Ukraine says hundreds of civilians were found dead after Russian troops withdrew from areas around Kyiv, with western countries speaking of possible war crimes.
Moscow’s denials that such a massacre took place have been undermined by satellite photos, published by western intelligence and media outlets, showing bodies lying in Bucha’s streets when Russian forces still controlled the town.
While diplomats from the EU’s 27 countries discussed sanctions on Thursday, Mr Kuleba said he had come to a Nato meeting in Brussels with a simple agenda: “weapons, weapons and weapons”.
Asking for planes and heavy air defences, he rejected the distinction made by some Nato members between sending defensive weapons but holding back offensive ones for fear of provoking Russia into widening the conflict.
“Every weapon used in the territory of Ukraine, by the Ukrainian army against a foreign aggressor, is defensive by definition,” Mr Kuleba said. “So this distinction between defensive and offensive doesn’t make any sense.”
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he expected the 30-member alliance to agree on new support for Ukraine on Thursday.
The G7 countries – the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan – were separately holding talks at which Britain said it would lobby for tougher sanctions.
Britain on Wednesday said it would end Russian oil and coal imports by the end of this year, gas deliveries “as soon as possible thereafter” and urged its G7 allies to commit to a timetable for cutting loose from Russian fossil fuels.
The energy-rich US has already banned such imports, while Germany says it is striving extricate itself from Russian supply by 2024 but has so far opposed a blanket embargo because of the economic pain it could cause at home.
Mr Borrell said he hoped the coal sanctions would be in place by the time he and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen visit Kyiv “in the coming days”.
They will become the most senior EU officials there since the war began, after three prime ministers from Eastern Europe travelled by train to Kyiv last month in a show of solidarity with Mr Zelenskyy.
But “what he really needs is more arms”, said Mr Borrell. “Less applause and more arms.”