December 10, 2023

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Macron calls for Russian oil and coal ban as Biden condemns ‘brutal’ Putin

The US and France called for a significant escalation of sanctions against Russia after reports of atrocities by its forces in Ukraine, with Emmanuel Macron urging a ban on Russian oil and coal imports and Joe Biden proposing a trial for war crimes.

The French and US presidents on Monday joined a chorus of western condemnation after reports of civilian killings and mass graves emerged over the weekend from Bucha, a city about 25km north-west of Kyiv, and other areas that were until recently under Russian occupation.

“There are very clear indications of war crimes,” Macron said in an interview on France Inter radio on Monday. “What happened in Bucha demands a new round of sanctions and very clear measures, so we will co-ordinate with our European partners, especially with Germany.”

He added: “I think that on oil and coal we must be able to move forward. We should certainly advance on sanctions . . . We can’t accept this.”

Biden vowed to ramp up sanctions on Russia and called for a trial to assess possible war crimes committed by President Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.

“This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous,” Biden said. “I’m going to continue to add more sanctions.”

He added that “we have to gather all the details” to “actually have war crimes trial”.

Biden made his comments as US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that the war was unlikely to be resolved soon, predicting that Russia would deploy tens of thousands of soldiers to Ukraine’s Donbas region as part of a strategic shift of focus towards the east of the country.

“The next stage of this conflict may very well be protracted,” he said. “We should be under no illusions that Russia will adjust its tactics, which have included and will likely continue to include wanton and brazen attacks on civilian targets.”

An animated map showing how Ukraine has taken back control of the Kyiv region from Russian forces

The US Treasury said it would stop Russia from making debt payments in dollars through American banks, a decision that would bring Moscow closer to a possible default. “Russia must choose between draining remaining valuable dollar reserves or new revenue coming in, or default,” a US Treasury spokesperson said.

Macron did not call for a ban on imports of Russian gas — a crucial fuel source for Germany, Italy and some eastern European countries — a choice that highlighted the varied challenges posed by different commodities.

German finance minister Christian Lindner said all options were being considered but suggested that an embargo on Russian gas imports would be most harmful for Germany.

“We have to differentiate between oil, gas and coal, because the substitution periods are different. But what has to be clear is that we have to cut all economic ties with Russia as soon as possible,” Lindner said.

One European diplomat said: “Germany at this stage does not seem to be able to take significant steps on oil or coal sanctions. They are in a constant balancing act between their economic interest and an adequate European response.”

Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said the bloc would hold Russia and its government accountable for “war crimes” in Ukraine and would work on new sanctions against Moscow “as a matter of urgency”.

“The massacres in the town of Bucha and other Ukrainian towns will be inscribed in the list of atrocities committed on European soil,” Borrell said.

EU ambassadors are set to discuss a new package of sanctions on Wednesday. The bloc’s rotating presidency is held by Macron.

Russia exports about 8mn barrels a day of crude oil, condensates and refined products, of which 4.5mn barrels a day goes to Europe. Russia is also a big supplier of thermal coal to the EU, accounting for 70 per cent, or 36mn tonnes, of the bloc’s imports last year, according to Eurostat. The EU imports 90 per cent of its gas, with Russia providing around half.

Some EU countries have unveiled plans to drastically reduce their use of Russian commodities. But Berlin has resisted an immediate halt to imports because it does not have sufficient alternative sources in the near term.

Germany wants to stop Russian coal imports by the end of the summer and oil imports from the country by the end of the year but it does not plan to end its reliance on Russian gas until mid-2024.

A top European Commission official said the EU could “cope” with an interruption of Russian gas supplies triggered either by sanctions or by a unilateral move by Moscow.

The allegations of atrocities in Bucha have been condemned by Ukraine and western governments. with President Volodymyr Zelensky accusing Russia of war crimes. “It is time to do everything possible to make the war crimes of the Russian military the last manifestation of such evil on earth,” the Ukrainian leader said on Sunday.

Iryna Venedyktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, said 410 bodies of civilians had been recovered from the Kyiv region.

Russia “categorically rejects any accusations” its forces killed civilians en masse in Bucha, the Kremlin said.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, cast “serious doubt” on reports of mass graves with hundreds of murdered civilians in Bucha. “From what we have seen, the video materials mostly can’t be trusted, because specialists from the defence ministry found signs of video manipulation and some fakes or others,” Peskov told reporters, according to Interfax.

Russia’s defence ministry claimed earlier that no civilians were harmed during its occupation.

Victor Mallet in Paris, Guy Chazan in Berlin, Henry Foy in Brussels, Sam Fleming in Luxembourg and James Politi and Felicia Schwartz in Washington. Additional reporting by Neil Hume in London, Max Seddon in Riga and Andres Schipani in Kyiv

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