By Reuters, published by US News & World Report and Cyprus Mail
Brussels –The European Union on Friday (Apr. 8) formally adopted its fifth package of sanctions against Russia since the country’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, including bans on the import of coal, wood, chemicals and other products.
The measures also prevent many Russian vessels and trucks from accessing the EU, further crippling trade, and will ban all transactions with four Russian banks, including VTB.
This came as Ukraine said as many as 50 people, including five children, were killed and many more were wounded and lost limbs in a rocket strike at a railway station packed with civilians fleeing the threat of a major Russian offensive in the country’s east.
The ban on coal imports will be fully effective from the second week of August. No new contracts can be signed from Friday, when sanctions are to be published in the EU’s official journal.
“These latest sanctions were adopted following the atrocities committed by Russian armed forces in Bucha and other places under Russian occupation,” EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement.
The Kremlin has said that Western allegations Russian forces committed war crimes by executing civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha were a “monstrous forgery” aimed at denigrating the Russian army.
The coal ban alone is estimated by the Commission to be worth 8 billion euros a year in lost revenues for Russia. That is twice as big as the EU Commission’s head Ursula von der Leyen had said on Tuesday.
In addition to coal, the new EU sanctions ban imports from Russia of many other commodities and products, including wood, rubber, cement, fertilisers, high-end seafood, such as caviar, and spirits, such as vodka, for a total additional value estimated in 5.5 billion euros ($5.9 billion) a year.
The EU also restricted export to Russia of a number of products, including jet fuel, quantum computers, advanced semiconductors, high-end electronics, software, sensitive machinery and transportation equipment, for a total value of 10 billion euros a year.
The sanctions also forbid Russian companies from participating in public procurement in the EU and extend prohibitions in the use of crypto-currencies that are considered a potential means to circumvent sanctions.
The Commission said that another 217 people were added to the EU blacklist as part of the new sanctions package, meaning their assets in the EU will be frozen and they will be subject to travel bans in the EU.
Most of them are political leaders of the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, but the sanctions also hit top businessmen, politicians and military staff close to the Kremlin.
This brings close to 900 the number of people sanctioned by the EU since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” the country.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the strike on the station in Kramatorsk in the eastern region of Donetsk region a deliberate attack on civilians.
Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the death toll rose to 50 from an earlier reported 39 as some of the several dozen wounded had died after being taken to hospital or medical centres.
He said the station was hit by a Tochka U short-range ballistic missile that contained cluster munitions, which explode in mid-air, spraying small lethal bomblets over a wider area.
“They wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible,” he said.
Reuters was unable to verify what happened in Kramatorsk.
The use of cluster munitions is banned under a 2008 convention. Russia has not signed the convention but has previously denied using such munitions in Ukraine.
The Russian defence ministry was quoted by RIA news agency as saying the missiles said to have struck the station were used only by Ukraine’s military and that Russia’s armed forces had no targets assigned in Kramatorsk on Friday.
Zelenskiy said no Ukrainian troops were at the station. “Russian forces (fired) on an ordinary train station, on ordinary people, there were no soldiers there,” he told Finland’s parliament in a video address.
Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksander Honcharenko estimated that about 4,000 people were at the station at the time of the attack.
“Some people have lost a leg, others an arm. They are now receiving medical assistance. The hospitals are carrying out about 40 operations simultaneously,” the mayor said in an online briefing.
The White House decried the “horrific and devastating images” of the station attack.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in Kyiv with the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen, also condemned the strike.
“This is yet another attempt to close escape routes for those fleeing this unjustified war,” he said on Twitter.
Ukrainian officials say Russia is regrouping forces after withdrawing from the capital Kyiv’s outskirts, for a new thrust to try to gain full control of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been partly held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and Western supporters call that a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.
Russian forces have failed to take any major cities so far, confronted by unexpectedly strong Ukrainian resistance and dogged by what Western intelligence officials say have been logistical, supply and morale problems.
The Kremlin, though, said on Friday its “special operation” could end in the “foreseeable future” with its aims being achieved with work being carried out by both the Russian military and Russian peace negotiators.
Russia’s invasion has displaced a quarter of the population, killed or injured thousands, laid cities to waste and prompted Western and other nations to inflict punishing sanctions and isolate Moscow diplomatically.
RECOVERING FROM OCCUPATION
Kyiv has called on its allies for deliveries of more, heavier weapons needed to respond and on Thursday secured a new commitment from the Nato alliance to supply a wide range of weapons.
Ukraine’s military general staff said on Friday that Russian troops were focused on capturing the besieged southeastern port of Mariupol, fighting near the eastern city of Izyum and breakthroughs by Ukrainian forces near Donetsk.
Residents of areas north of Kyiv recaptured from Russian forces were still coming to terms with the month-long occupation.
In Yahidne, a village north of the capital, residents recounted how more than 300 people were trapped for weeks by Russian occupiers in a school basement, with names of those who did not survive the harsh conditions or were killed by soldiers scrawled on the wall.
Reuters was not able to verify the villagers’ accounts independently. Reporters saw one freshly dug grave in a field by the village and two bodies wrapped in white plastic sheets.
After civilian deaths in the town of Bucha were widely condemned by Western nations as war crimes, Zelenskiy said the situation in Borodyanka – another town northwest of Kyiv – was “significantly more dreadful”.
He offered no further detail or evidence that Russia was responsible for civilian deaths in the town.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said that in the Kyiv region, which includes Borodyanka and Bucha, authorities had found 650 bodies, 40 of them children.
Top: A view of people’s belongings and bloodstains on the ground after the missile strike on a railway station. Photo: Ukraine Defence Ministry via Reuters and published by Cyprus Mail
First insert: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, April 10, 2019. File photo: Reuters/Yves Herman/and published by US News & World Report
Second insert: Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a fragment of a Tochka-U missile with a writing in Russian “For children” , on a grass field after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Friday, April 8, 2022. Photo: AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko and published by The Press Democrat
Third insert: Ukrainian servicemen stand next to damaged cars after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Friday, April 8, 2022. Photo: AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko and published by The Press Democrat
Fourth insert: A man hugs a woman after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on Friday, April 8, 2022. Photo: AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko and published by The Press Democrat
Fifth insert: People walk with bicycles past apartments buildings destroyed by shelling in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Photo: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka and published by The Press Democrat
Home Page: A woman with her child hug their dog in the shelter of a school in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Photo: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka and published by The Press Democrat
Also read: US and UK hit Moscow with new sanctions