(Bloomberg) — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will visit Kyiv this week in a show of support as mounting civilian casualties prompt European nations to consider expanding sanctions to Russian coal.
Von der Leyen will be accompanied by European foreign policy chief Josef Borrell in the most high-profile visit by a Western official to Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
With world attention focused on allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, the 27-member EU will discuss this week a proposed phaseout of Russian coal imports and measures that would prevent most Russian ships and trucks from entering the bloc. Moscow denies its troops killed civilians in Bucha or other towns.
Ukraine said the Russian assault remains focused on the east of the country with the besieged port of Mariupol still under intense shelling.
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EU to Propose Ban on Russian Coal (11:55 a.m.)
The European Union is planning to propose a mandatory phaseout on coal imports from Russia in a direct response to reports that Russian forces committed apparent war crimes in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.
The action on coal would be added to a package of steps aimed at strengthening existing measures and correcting loopholes that was already set to be debated this week by EU ambassadors. The details of the ban and the timing of the coal phaseout are still under discussion, the people said. The European Commission is also expected to propose banning most Russian trucks and ships from entering the bloc.
The EU isn’t planning to sanction oil or gas for now, amid deep divisions over how to approach Russia’s energy sector.
Oil Rises on Sanctions Talk (11:32 a.m.)
Oil rose as some European nations pushed for a discussion on the possibility of extending sanctions to Russia’s oil and coal sectors.
West Texas Intermediate was up 1.6% near $105 a barrel. The U.S. and U.K. have already moved to ban Russian oil and mounting civilian casualties in Ukraine are piling pressure on European governments to take further action despite concerns over the impact on domestic economies.
“Prices are being driven up by the prospect of new sanctions against Russia,” said Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank AG. A major move away from Russian oil by European buyers “would result in considerable price rises.”
Italy Expels 30 Russian Diplomats (11:25 a.m.)
Italy has expelled 30 Russian diplomats for national security reasons, according to foreign minister Luigi Di Maio.
The move mirrors similar announcements made by Germany, France and several other European Union countries, which in recent days expelled Russian diplomats with suspected links to spy agencies in response to the killing of civilians in the town of Bucha. Moscow denies its forces killed civilians in Bucha or other towns.
Denmark expelled 15 Russian diplomats on Tuesday and Sweden three.
EU’s Von Der Leyen to Meet Zelenskiy in Kyiv (10:51 a.m.)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will visit Ukraine’s capital this week to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Von der Leyen will travel with Josef Borrell, the EU’s foreign chief, ahead of a fundraising event she plans to host in Warsaw on Saturday to raise money for Ukraine.
Ukraine Seeks Turkish Help in Mariupol (10:28 a.m.)
Ukraine has asked Turkey to help it evacuate the dead and wounded from the besieged port of Mariupol, President Volodymir Zelenskiy told local reporters Tuesday.
“We were looking for a middleman who will be accepted by the occupants,” Zelenskiy said. Turkey is ready to help transport casualties by ship from the port of Berdyansk, which is also occupied by Russian troops, as the fighting makes it impossible to approach Mariupol, he said. Ukraine was waiting for Putin’s response to the plan.
Zelenskiy said there was no plan to retake the Donbas by force as this would cost too many Ukrainian lives.
Finland To Train Reservists (9:42 a.m.)
Reservists making up Finland’s 280,000 strong war-time troops are to undergo more training as part of efforts to beef up defenses, Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen told reporters in Helsinki on Tuesday.
The Nordic country will also spend more on weapons, planning procurements quickly before lead times are extended and prices rise from increased demand across Europe since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
Germany Admits Russia Policy Errors (9:30 a.m.)
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he and his fellow officials failed in their policy toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin over the past two decades, including backing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
“We failed with the effort to bind Russia into a European security architecture and we failed with the effort to bring Russia along on the path to democracy,” Steinmeier said on public broadcaster ZDF, in a rare admission.
“We should have taken the warnings from our eastern European partners more seriously,” he added. “It’s a bitter outcome and that includes the error that we thought Putin in the end wouldn’t accept the complete political, economic and moral ruin of his country to pursue his imperial dreams or imperial delusion.”
EU Under Pressure to Sanction Coal, Oil (9:23 a.m.)
France is ready to extend sanctions against Russia to the oil and coal sectors, Bruno Le Maire told reporters before a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg. But it’s unclear all 27 members of the bloc are on board despite outrage over suspected Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
“We will see what the position of the other member states will be, but I think there is a possibility to have unity” on new sanctions, Le Maire said.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said that oil and coal sanctions “are definitely an option” for the European Commission, but Germany and others have been opposed so far. Austrian finance minister Magnus Brunner repeated his country’s position that sanctions mustn’t hurt EU states more than they do Russia.
Russia Business Activity Contracts (9:11 a.m.)
Russia’s private sector suffered “substantial declines” in activity last month as the impact of sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine and the plunge in the ruble triggered the sharpest drop in operating conditions since the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, according to S&P Global.
The Russia Composite PMI index fell to 37.7 in March from 50.8 in the previous month, S&P said in a survey published Tuesday, with both services and manufacturing companies reporting sharp declines.
Russia Still Pressing Further in Ukraine’s East (9:10 a.m.)
Russia is still focusing its military efforts in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the Ukrainian General Staff said in its morning update, targeting the northeastern city of Kharkiv which is under nonstop artillery fire. Russian troops are also hitting industrial infrastructure across multiple towns and have taken control of one village.
The eastern port city of Mariupol is still being heavily shelled. That city has been under siege for weeks with humanitarian groups struggling to deliver aid and civilians unable to leave. There were air raids on Mykolayiv and loud explosions this morning in the Kherson region on the Black Sea.
Wheat Surges on Potential New Sanctions (6:30 a.m.)
Wheat futures in Chicago extended their climb on prospects for more sanctions on Russia in response to allegations of war crimes in Ukraine.
Further sanctions may impede Russian grain exports, while the war is likely to prevent planting on a large amount of land in the east of Ukraine. Shipments from Ukraine are at a virtual standstill, with its Black Sea ports closed.
The war puts at risk over a quarter of the world’s annual wheat and barley exports, about a fifth of its corn cargoes and most of its sunflower oil shipments.