Horrors of Bucha Push Europe Toward New Sanctions on Russia

By BLOOMBERG

The European Union said that work is under way on additional sanctions to penalize Russia for what appear to be war crimes in Ukraine, as it condemned the alleged atrocities committed against civilians.

In a statement on behalf of the 27-nation bloc, Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief foreign envoy, blamed the occupying Russian forces for the images of dead civilians in the streets, saying that the EU will work on further sanctions “as a matter of urgency,” he said. 

“The Russian authorities are responsible for these atrocities, committed while they had effective control of the area,” Borrell said. “The massacres in the town of Bucha and other Ukrainian towns will be inscribed in the list of atrocities committed on European soil.”

The world reacted with horror and outrage to the apparent war crimes in towns surrounding Kyiv that were among the first targets of the invading Russian forces. However, it’s unclear whether fresh revelations of atrocities will prove to be a turning point in the international response to the near six-week-old war.    

New EU sanctions will be discussed over the next few days, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, who called for “very clear measures.” 

“I am in favor of a round of sanctions, particularly on coal and oil, which we know are particularly harmful,” Macron said in a radio interview, adding that France will coordinate with European partners, especially Germany, on additional measures. “We must convey a sign that it is our values and our common dignity that we’re defending,” he said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry called the pictures of the dead in towns newly liberated by Ukrainian forces a “provocation” by Kyiv. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it was more evidence that Russia is committing genocide.

“Those were war crimes and the world will recognize it as genocide,” Zelenskiy said during a visit to Bucha on Monday.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has been coordinating with member states to hone measures that would mostly focus on closing loopholes, strengthening existing actions — such as export controls on more technology goods and fully sanctioning banks already cut off from the SWIFT global payments system — and expanding the list of sanctioned individuals with dozens more people. 

That set of actions is expected to be put forward as early as Wednesday.

But in light of reports that Russian troops executed unarmed civilians, some governments argue that the measures don’t go far enough and want the bloc to discuss a new and stronger package of sanctions, including targeting Russia’s energy sector, as soon as possible.

Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki proposed an EU ban on visas to Russian citizens during a press conference in Warsaw, calling the move “indispensable.” Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said a fifth around of “strong EU sanctions” should come as soon as possible.

Germany and a few other member states that are dependent on Russian gas have opposed sanctioning the energy sector, as well as its maritime trade and other key industries. EU sanctions require unanimous support. 

But there were indications that the mood may be shifting in Berlin. 

In a statement to reporters in Berlin on Sunday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany and its allies will agree “further measures” against Russia in coming days, without providing details. 

“Putin and his supporters will feel the effects and we will continue to make weapons available to Ukraine so it can defend itself against the Russian invasion,” Scholz said. He didn’t mention the Russian imports of gas, oil and coal that Germany heavily relies on.

Still, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, a member of Scholz’s Social Democrats, said on ARD television that the EU should discuss a ban on Russian natural gas imports. Government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday that it is too early to talk about the details and the scope of the new punitive measures.

Pressed on whether Bucha will lead the government to drop its resistance to a full Russian energy embargo, Economy Minister Robert Habeck reiterated that Germany is trying to reduce its dependence as quickly as possible and said it’s making “surprisingly swift progress.”

Ukraine has accused Russian soldiers of killing unarmed civilians, with officials saying they found hundreds of bodies in Bucha after Russian troops left. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that Russia “categorically denies” allegations its forces killed civilians in Bucha, without providing any new evidence to back up Moscow’s assertions that videos from the site are “fake.” He called on foreign leaders not to rush to make statements about the case before an investigation is conducted. 

A Russian attempt to convene a United Nations Security Council meeting to air its grievances about Bucha was blocked by fellow permanent member the U.K.

The EU fully supports the International Criminal Court’s investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is helping Ukraine with efforts to document evidence, said Borrell. 

“The perpetrators of war crimes and other serious violations as well as the responsible government officials and military leaders will be held accountable,” he said.