European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled new punitive actions against Russia on Wednesday, even as Russia pounded Ukraine, targeting rail stations and other supply lines in attempts to stop the West from “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.”
The Russian strikes, with air- and sea-launched missiles, hit five railway stations and fuel and ammunition depots, Russia and Ukraine reported.
“This is an effort to try to disrupt the Ukrainians’ ability to replenish and reinforce,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a briefing Wednesday.
But the Pentagon said that specifically around Lviv, the strikes had “no appreciable impact,” said a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the assessment.
The sanctions von der Leyen announced would cut off European purchases of Russian crude oil within six months and end imports of refined energy products by the end of 2022.
EU members must unanimously approve the package for it to take effect.
“Let’s be clear, it will not be easy because some member states are strongly dependent on Russian oil, but we simply have to do it,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
She said the phased approach would allow EU members to find alternatives to Russian imports, blunt negative effects on the global energy markets, and help maximize pressure on Russia while minimizing collateral economic damage.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed for more extensive European actions to cut off imports of Russian energy, saying earlier this week that a new EU package “should include clear steps to block Russia’s revenues from energy resources.”
The proposed EU sanctions also include removing Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, from the international SWIFT transaction and messaging system, and listing high-ranking military officers “who committed war crimes in Bucha and those responsible for the inhuman siege of Mariupol.”
“This sends another important signal to all perpetrators of the Kremlin: We know who you are. We will hold you accountable. You are not getting away with this,” von der Leyen said.
She added that Russian President Vladimir Putin “must pay a high price for his brutal aggression.”
“Putin wanted to wipe out Ukraine from the map, and he will clearly not succeed,” she said. “On the contrary. Ukraine has risen in bravery and in unity, and it is his own country, Russia, that Putin is sinking.”
In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he would be speaking with other leaders from the Group of Seven advanced economies this week about potential new sanctions against Russia.
“We’re always open to additional sanctions,” Biden told reporters.
Fighting in the east, south
In Mariupol, fighting intensified around the Azovstal steel mill. The city’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said the Russians were hitting the plant with everything from heavy artillery to “bombs that pierce concrete 3 to 5 meters thick.”
The Ukrainian fighters defending the plant said Russian troops had entered its grounds, which Russia denied.
A senior U.S. defense official said that Russian military progress in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region was “stalled … very slow and uneven.”
Russia has been launching about 40 to 50 missile strikes a day but is “still wary” of flying inside Ukraine. Russian forces have been meeting stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces as they attempt to advance toward Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, the official said.
Air raid sirens went off Wednesday night across Ukraine, with attacks reported near Kyiv, in Cherkasy and Dnipro in central Ukraine, and in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.
President Zelenskyy, in an early morning address Thursday, said a long cease-fire was needed to evacuate the remaining civilians in Mariupol.
“It will take time simply to lift people out of those basements, out of those underground shelters. In the present conditions, we cannot use heavy equipment to clear the rubble away. It all has to be done by hand,” he said.
Russia said it would pause military activity during the day for the next three days.
The United Nations said Wednesday that the more than 300 civilians evacuated from Mariupol, Manhush, Berdiansk, Tokmak and Vasylivka were receiving humanitarian assistance in Zaporizhzhia.
“While this second evacuation of civilians from areas in Mariupol and beyond is significant, much more must be done to make sure all civilians caught up in fighting can leave, in the direction they wish,” said Osnat Lubrani, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss discussed support for Ukraine in a telephone call.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the diplomats talked about “additional security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and continued transatlantic unity,” as well as “economic consequences for those who continue to provide financial or material support that aids the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine.”
Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Press and Reuters.