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UKRAINE

EU eyes more Ukraine arms aid and big Russia sanctions

The European Union on Friday eyed an extra 500 million euros in military support for Ukraine and fresh sanctions on Russia, as Moscow's war spurred vows to bolster the bloc's defences.

Ukraine servicemen praying
Servicemen of Ukraine's Azov Battalion pray in the Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 11, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP)

EU leaders meeting for a summit in France’s Palace of Versailles described Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as a wake-up call for the 27-nation bloc to take a tougher approach to ensuring its security.

“There’s no denying the fact that two weeks ago we woke up in a different Europe, in a different world,” European Council chief Charles Michel said.

The EU’s executive put forward a proposal to double its financing for sending weapons to Ukraine to one billion euros as the West scrambles to back Kyiv’s forces in the face of the Kremlin’s onslaught.

The bloc last month broke a longstanding taboo by agreeing to pay for arms deliveries to Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of his pro-Western neighbour.

The move was part of a broad push by Ukraine’s allies to send weapons amid desperate pleas from Kyiv for air defence systems after calls to impose a no-fly zone were rebuffed.

Alongside further arms supplies, EU leaders also said they were readying a fresh round of economic punishment as they look to keep up pressure on Putin over the bloodshed.

The West has already hit Moscow with a barrage of unprecedented sanctions but the EU has so far failed to agree to follow the US lead in hitting Russia’s key oil and gas exports.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would talk to Putin again in the coming hours with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Macron warned the Kremlin leader of further “massive sanctions” if he steps up the bombing or seeks to besiege Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

“In that case, nothing is off the table, nothing is taboo,” Macron said.

“We will do whatever we deem to be effective and useful to halt Russia in its aggression.”

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen later said on Friday the bloc would ban the export of luxury goods to Russia, striking a “direct blow to the Russian elite”.

On Thursday, she said the 27 leaders agreed to explore ways to eliminate the bloc’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels in five years.

‘Invest more’
As the EU has broken new ground in sending arms abroad, it has also been shocked into reconsidering its approach to security after decades relying on US-led NATO to ensure Europe’s defences.

Leaders agreed in a declaration “to increase substantially defence expenditures” and bolster cooperation on military projects between member states.

“We must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies,” the declaration said.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the bloc was looking at issues such as whether to “procure common capabilities, for example, that are too expensive for any individual state to buy on their own.”

She also called for all EU members states — six of which are not in NATO — to mirror the military alliance’s commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence.

Collective security in the European Union is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s biggest military power, has been spearheading calls for an enhanced role for the bloc.

The assault on Ukraine has now prompted some about-turns.

Germany tore up decades of policy by agreeing to send weapons to Ukraine after the start of the war and has pledged an extra 100 billion euros ($110 billion) to help improve its armed forces.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said countries were acting “dangerously” by backing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

Long road to EU
The EU leaders on Thursday doused Ukraine’s hopes of quickly gaining European Union membership, saying it was a long-term process, not a “fast-track”.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said in a video message after Friday’s talks that Ukraine wanted the EU “to be more ambitious” in its commitments regarding possible membership.

But he insisted: “We Ukrainians know for 100 percent that Ukraine will be a member of the European Union,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of time.”

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Member comments

  1. NATO is old school cold war alliance but a new and improved EU army could work at addressing the security concerns of the bloc and even neutral countries could get behind it.

  2. NATO is old school cold war era alliance but an EU alliance could address the security concerns of the bloc inc with neutral countries.

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ENERGY

Italian energy company to start paying for Russian gas in rubles

Italian energy company Eni confirmed it is opening accounts in rubles with Gazprombank to pay for gas supplies, complying with Moscow's demands.

Italian energy company to start paying for Russian gas in rubles

Eni said in a statement on Tuesday it was opening accounts in rubles and euros with Gazprom Bank “on a precautionary basis” as “deadlines for the payment of gas supplies are scheduled for the next few days”.

It was not immediately clear whether the move would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.

READ ALSO: Italy will ‘soon’ stop buying gas from Russia, says minister

Vladimir Putin demanded at the end of March that payment be made in rubles or the gas supply to European countries would be cut off, as he hit back at sanctions placed on Russia by EU countries following its invasion of Ukraine.
 
Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi said at the time that his company would not comply with the demands, saying “Eni doesn’t have rubles” and “the contracts say fuel payments should be made in euros”.
 
But many European companies and their lawyers have since been looking at ways to meet the demand without breaching sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for the war in Ukraine, reports Bloomberg.
 
EU officials had said opening a ruble account would breach sanctions. But its latest guidelines, to be published this week, are expected to stop short of banning bank accounts in rubles and  therefore allow companies to keep buying Russian gas, Bloomberg reports.
 
 
Like other European countries, Italy says it is working to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy imports in the wake of the Ukraine war.
 

But the Italian government has so far resisted calls to boycott Russian oil and gas.

Italy is highly dependent on Russian gas, importing 95 percent of the gas it consumes, of which around 40 percent comes from Russia.

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