Live: EU chief calls for Russian oil ban in fresh round of sanctions

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed Wednesday that the bloc ban oil imports from Russia over its war on Ukraine, and target the country’s biggest bank and major broadcasters in a new round of sanctions, adding that the sanctions should involve “a complete import ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined". Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

9:55am: Hungary, Slovakia can continue to buy Russian crude oil until end of 2023

Hungary and Slovakia will be able to continue buying Russian crude oil until the end of 2023 under existing contracts, an EU source told Reuters on Wednesday, benefitting from exemptions from an oil embargo proposed by the European Commission.

The EU executive proposed on Wednesday to ban imports of Russian crude oil within six months, and refined oil products by the end of the year.

In a bid to convince reluctant countries not to veto the proposal, Brussels has proposed a longer period to implement the embargo for Hungary and Slovakia, the source said.

9:39am: EU leader calls for Russian oil ban in new set of sanctions

The European Union’s chief executive is proposing that the bloc ban oil imports from Russia over its war on Ukraine, and target the country’s biggest bank and major broadcasters in a new round of sanctions.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers Wednesday that the sanctions should involve “a complete import ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined.”

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She says the aim is to “make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets.”

The sanctions proposals are to be debated by the 27 EU member countries. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they would not take part. The two are landlocked and heavily dependent on Russia for their energy supplies.

Banks are also in the EU executive arm’s sights, and notably the giant Sberbank. Von der Leyen says the aim is to “de-SWIFT Sberbank,” as well as two other banks. SWIFT is the major global system for financial transfers.

Von der Leyen says those alleged to be spreading disinformation about the war in Ukraine should be targeted, notably three big Russian state-owned broadcasters. She did not identify any of the outlets.

8:29am: Ukraine, UN and Red Cross make new effort to evacuate civilians from Mariupol

A convoy of buses left Mariupol on Wednesday in a new attempt by Ukraine, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross to evacuate civilians from the southern Ukrainian city, the regional governor said.

The buses were heading for the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. He did not make clear whether any more civilians had been evacuated from a vast steel works in Mariupol where the city's last defenders are holding out against Russian forces. FRANCE 24's Luke Shrago reports from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

8:28am: Russia-linked superyacht owners to appeal Fiji seizure order

A company registered as the owner of a Russia-linked superyacht has applied to prevent Fiji from seizing it under a US warrant, pending an appeal against the move.

A High Court judge in Fiji's capital Suva had granted an order on Tuesday for the seizure of the Amadea, which is reportedly owned by a sanctioned Russian oligarch.

The US warrant for its seizure was filed with the High Court last month.

The Amadea, with an estimated value of more than US$300 million, has been berthed at Lautoka in western Fiji since mid-April.

It has been linked in some reports to Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, a target of US and European Union sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

6:50am: Belarus says surprise army drills no threat to neighbours

The armed forces of Belarus began sudden drills on Wednesday to test their combat readiness, the TASS news agency cited the defence ministry of Ukraine's neighbour as saying.

"It is planned that the (combat readiness) test will involve the movement of significant numbers of military vehicles, which can slow down traffic on public roads," the Belarusian ministry said in a statement.

Against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ministry said the exercise posed no threat to its neighbours or the European community in general.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and the two discussed the Russian operation in Ukraine, among other issues, according to official statements.

Areas of Ukraine adjacent to Belarus, including its capital Kyiv, came under Russian assault in the initial stage of the invasion, but now Russia has focused its attacks on Ukraine's eastern and southeastern regions.

4:15am: Russia to boycott UN Security Council meeting with EU committee

In a rare move, Russia will boycott a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday with the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC), diplomats said, a further sign of deteriorating relations between Moscow and its United Nations partners.

According to a Russian diplomatic source speaking anonymously Tuesday, Moscow’s decision is linked to the situation in Ukraine.

A Western diplomat told AFP they had no memory of Russia boycotting a Security Council meeting since it invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The annual informal meeting between the council and the PSC has not been held since 2019 due to the Covid pandemic. Wednesday’s meeting is expected to address the EU’s interaction with the UN in countries where both organizations are conducting operations.

Russia, which is one of the five permanent members on the Security Council, has been ousted from several UN bodies, including the human rights council.

At a press conference Tuesday, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, whose country will assume the Security Council presidency in May, said the council has been “extraordinarily successful” in “isolating Russia” since the end of February.

“Russia is isolated in the Security Council, and every time we have a discussion in the Security Council as it relates to Russia, they are on the defensive and we will continue to keep them on the defensive until they end their brutal attack on the Ukrainian people,” she told reporters.

2:44am: European Council chief ‘confident’ EU will adopt embargo on Russian oil, despite pushback

“Our goal is simple, we must break the Russian war machine,” said European Council president Charles Michel on Tuesday. “I am confident that the council will imminently impose further sanctions, notably on Russian oil.”

Such an embargo could far-reaching impacts, as the EU imports one-third of its oil from Russia, and accounts for two-thirds of the country’s oil exports. FRANCE 24’s Alison Sargent explains:

May 4, 12:21am: Russia strikes Lviv, other parts of western Ukraine

Russian strikes hit several regions across Ukraine on Tuesday, including the western hub of Lviv and a mountainous region bordering Hungary which was targeted for the first time, officials said.

The mayor of Lviv, near the Polish border, said the strikes caused power outages in parts of the city.

“As a result of the rocket strike (on Lviv), two power substations were damaged. A part of the city doesn’t have electricity,” Andriy Sadoviy said on Twitter, adding that one person was wounded.

Authorities also reported strikes in the central region of Kirovograd and the southwestern region of Vinnytsia.

The mountainous region of Transcarpathia, which borders Hungary and Slovakia and which has so far been spared attacks, was also hit Tuesday.

“Services are working on the spot, we are clarifying information about injuries and possible victims,” the head of the region’s military administration Viktor Mykyta said on Telegram.

Ukrainian media said it was the first time the region was hit since the Russian invasion in late February.

While Russia has focused its invasion on Ukraine’s eastern regions, it has also targeted western areas, with the Kremlin warning it will target flows of Western weapons into the country.

FRANCE 24’s Nadia Massih reports from Kyiv:

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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