Europe warns Russia faces new sanctions for ‘war crimes’

Some European Union governments are pushing for the bloc to quickly impose new sanctions in response to multiple reports that Russian troops executed unarmed civilians in Ukrainian towns, according to diplomats familiar with the discussions.

The European Commission was already honing measures that would mostly focus on closing loopholes, strengthening existing actions – such as export controls on technology goods and fully sanctioning banks already cut off from the SWIFT global payments system – and expanding the list of sanctioned individuals.

Some EU nations argue there is now a trigger for the new penalties to be put in place with speed, with Ukrainian officials reporting evidence of war crimes committed by Russian troops in northern areas, according to a diplomat familiar with the discussions.

There is not yet consensus on all the details for a new package, or when to implement it, even as the bloc’s executive arm seeks in the meantime to put forward a set of corrective measures as early as this week. A small number of member states, including Germany, are opposed to sanctioning Russia’s energy sector, its maritime trade and other key industries, and EU sanctions require unanimous support.The question for EU members is what actions would spur a fresh and fuller set of sanctions . Some continue to argue such measures should only be explored if Russia were to use chemical weapons or capture a major city, three diplomats said, asking not to be identified as the discussions are private.Other states say the reported events in places like Bucha, a town on the outskirts of Kyiv, are enough to warrant action. And one of the diplomats said even the fresh measures on the table were not enough given the extent of the potential war crimes.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a Twitter post Sunday that anyone responsible for war crimes must be held accountable and sanctions would be tightened against Russia.Ukraine has accused Russian soldiers of killing unarmed civilians, with officials saying they found hundreds of bodies in Bucha after Russian troops left. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, posted several photos on Twitter of dead people, some with their hands tied behind their backs. Moscow has not commented on the accusation so far. The Kremlin has said previously it was only targeting the military and key infrastructure.It comes as Russia shifts tactics in the war, redeploying troops away from the north after weeks of failure to make ground. Instead its campaign is focusing on areas in the east, including the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Donbas, and Mariupol, a port city that has already been under siege for weeks.

Odesa meanwhile was rocked by explosions early Sunday. Russia fired high-precision missiles from ships and aircraft that struck an oil refinery and three storage facilities near the southwestern port city, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.The organization Human Rights Watch said on Sunday it had documented several cases of apparent war crimes committed by Russian forces, including summary executions. “The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.”

Ukraine wants the International Criminal Court to send missions to investigate “war crimes” uncovered in Bucha and other formerly occupied towns, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

“We are still collecting bodies, uncovering graves, but the count is already in the hundreds,” he told the UK’s Times Radio in an interview.

The US last month made a formal determination that Russian troops had committed war crimes. At the time Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US had seen “credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities.” President Joe Biden has said he considers Vladimir Putin a war criminal.

Increasingly frustrated with the stance of their counterparts, several EU countries, including Lithuania and Poland, have announced they will unilaterally stop importing Russian energy, while Estonia has put forward a proposal to withhold and freeze a share of Russia’s energy revenue that it says could be an initial compromise.

One of the diplomats said the hope was the unilateral moves would lead to an agreement among all member states to do more in order to avoid risking damage to the EU united front.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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