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EU eyes Russia trade sanctions over 'sham' Ukraine votes

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell address a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. The European Union's top diplomat says the bloc suspects that damage to two underwater natural gas pipelines was sabotage and is warning of retaliation for any attack on Europe's energy networks. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union countries should impose “biting sanctions” on Russian trade and hit officials responsible for “sham referendums” held in parts of Ukraine as Moscow ramps up the war, senior EU officials said Wednesday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on joining Russia “are an illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force.”

“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said.

“We propose sweeping new import bans on Russian products. This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of an additional 7 billion euros (dollars) in revenue,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.

She said the EU's executive branch also advises extending the bloc's own export ban “to deprive the Kremlin’s military complex of key technologies," including electronic components and specific chemical substances.

The proposals still must be endorsed by the 27 EU member countries.

The commission president also said the EU should “lay the legal basis” for a price-cap on Russian oil, without elaborating. The bloc already agreed to ban sea-borne crude starting Dec. 5, but some member countries still require Russian supplies at low prices.

On top of that, Von der Leyen recommended a ban on EU nationals sitting on the governing bodies of Russian companies, saying that “Russia should not benefit from European knowledge and expertise.”

People who help Russia to circumvent sanctions could also face sanctions themselves, under the proposal outlined Wednesday.

The European Commission has drawn up several rafts of sanctions against Russia since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine seven months ago.

Banks, companies and markets have been hit — even parts of the sensitive energy sector – with asset freezes and travel bans slapped on over 1,200 officials.

But the hard work is yet to come. The economies of the EU's 27 member countries have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic are now struggling against high inflation, with skyrocketing electricity and natural gas prices. Sanctions are getting harder to agree as they also inflict damage at home.

The last round of sanctions was announced May 4 book took four weeks to gain bloc-wide approval as concerns over oil restrictions divided member countries. In July, rather than impose fresh measures, the EU adopted a “maintenance and alignment” package that mostly closed loopholes on sanctions already agreed upon.

The actions ultimately agreed on this time are likely to be less ambitious than the commission's recommendations and imposed only after much debate and hand-wringing among the 27 countries in coming weeks.


Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine at

Lorne Cook And Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press

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