Zelenskyy calls on EU to sanction Russia’s Rosatom

Hungary has vetoed the idea of sanctioning Russian nuclear energy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, centre, speaks to the media alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel. EPA
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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday called on the EU to sanction Russian state energy company Rosatom in its upcoming round of sanctions, a sensitive issue for several Eastern European members of the bloc due to their reliance on it.

“We still need the support of all leaders of the EU” to sanction Rosatom, said Mr Zelenskyy during a joint press conference in Kyiv alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel at the end of the first EU-Ukraine summit since Russia’s invasion last year.

EU governments have tentatively agreed to set a $100-per-barrel price cap on sales of Russian diesel, diplomats indicated late on Friday. It appeared the G7 and Australia would follow suit.

There have been fears of a nuclear catastrophe after Russian military forces in March seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in the south-eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog Rafael Grossi told the European Parliament last week that he was trying to convince Russia and Ukraine to establish a nuclear safety zone around the plant, which is still operated by Ukrainian technical staff. He warned that the plant was exposed to shelling.

Rosatom should be sanctioned because it currently manages the power plant, which has six power units, said Mr Zelenskyy.

He accused Russia of forcing Ukrainian staff to take Russian nationality and of sending their children to Russia.

“This is more than slavery,” he said.

Mr Zelenskyy added that the loss of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant had deprived Ukraine of “substantial money”. Before the war, Ukraine used to export energy abroad.

Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel did not mention Rosatom in their speeches. Ms von der Leyen said the focus of the tenth package of sanctions against Russia, which is expected to be announced later this month on the first anniversary of the start of the war, was on technology.

“We [are looking] at components found in drones to make sure that there is zero availability for Russia for these technologies, or drone production Iran,” she said, referring to western accusations that Iran is supplying drones to Russia for use in Ukraine.

She added that closing loopholes that the Kremlin uses to circumvent sanctions would also be a priority.

The exact measures in the next EU sanctions package must be agreed upon by the bloc’s 27 member countries — a process that can take weeks.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the G7 and Australia were also looking to impose a price cap on refined Russian oil products.

Discussions regarding sanctioning Rosatom are highly sensitive within the EU because several Eastern European countries are dependent on its services and technologies.

For this reason, it remains unlikely that the commission will suggest sanctioning Rosatom anytime soon.

Mr Zelenskyy said that he was “really offended” by the countries that enable the circumvention of Russian sanctions, but did not name them.

The EU continues spending millions of euros on Russian nuclear fuel imports despite its stated goal to stop funding Russia’s war machine by halting imports, including in the energy sector.

A report published in October by Investigate Europe found that EU countries paid €210 million for raw uranium imports from Russia in 2021 and another €245 million from Kazakhstan, where uranium mining is controlled by Rosatom.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last week that his country would veto an EU sanctions against Russian nuclear energy. Hungary has a Russian-built nuclear plant it plans to expand with Rosatom.

EU-member Hungary has repeatedly criticised EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, saying they have failed to weaken Moscow meaningfully, while they risk destroying the European economy.

The West has not imposed sanctions on Rosatom since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Mr Zelenskyy also reiterated Ukraine’s wish to rapidly join the EU and said he hoped that negotiations would start this year.

Ukraine officially became a candidate country in June, and European officials have warned that the process would take a long time.

Mr Michel assured Mr Zelenskyy that the EU Council would make a decision about negotiations after the commission submits this autumn its enlargement report for candidate countries Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

“The future of Ukraine is within the EU,” said Mr Michel.

France and Italy have agreed to deliver mobile surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine, the French defence ministry said.

The systems, called Mamba or Samp/T, are vehicle-mounted medium-range missiles designed to offer protection from airborne threats

Updated: February 03, 2023, 10:09 PM