EU Leaders Agree to Ban 90 Percent of Russian Oil by Year-End
European Union leaders agreed Monday to embargo most Russian oil imports into the bloc by year-end as part of new sanctions on Moscow worked out at a summit focused on helping Ukraine with a long-delayed package of new financial support.
The embargo covers Russian oil brought in by sea, allowing a temporary exemption for imports delivered by pipeline, a move that was crucial to bring landlocked Hungary on board a decision that required consensus.
EU Council President Charles Michel said the agreement covers more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia. Ursula Von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive branch, said the punitive move will “effectively cut around 90 percent of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year.”
Michel said leaders also agreed to provide Ukraine with a 9 billion euro ($9.7 billion) tranche of assistance to support the war-torn country’s economy. It was unclear whether the money would come in grants or loans.
Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, responded to the EU’s decision on Twitter, saying: “As she rightly said yesterday, Russia will find other importers.”
The new package of sanctions will also include an asset freeze and travel ban on individuals, while Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, will be excluded from SWIFT, the major global system for financial transfers from which the EU previously banned several smaller Russian banks. Three big Russian state-owned broadcasters will be prevented from distributing their content in the EU.
Turkey Tells US It Wants ‘Concrete Steps’ From Finland, Sweden for NATO Bids
A chief adviser to Turkey’s president told his U.S. counterpart that Turkey wanted “concrete steps” on the existence of what it calls “terrorist organizations” in Finland and Sweden before it would consider their NATO bids, the Turkish presidency said.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Ibrahim Kalin, chief foreign policy adviser to President Tayyip Erdogan, spoke on Monday to discuss the NATO bids and the war in Ukraine, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
Turkey has objected to the two countries joining the Western defense alliance on the grounds that they harbor people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist group and others it deems terrorists, and because Finland and Sweden halted arms exports to Turkey in 2019.
In a statement, the Turkish presidency said Kalin had told Sullivan in a phone call that nations wanting to join NATO must “internalize the alliance’s values and principles on security and counter-terrorism.”
“It was emphasized that it is imperative for Sweden and Finland to take concrete steps regarding the terrorist organizations that threaten Turkey’s national security,” it added.
Gazprom Cutting Gas Sales to Dutch Supplier
Russian state gas giant Gazprom confirmed on Monday it will halt gas supplies to a Dutch gas trader starting Tuesday due to its refusal to pay for deliveries in rubles, a requirement for European nations Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward earlier this year.
GasTerra, based in the northern Dutch city of Groningen, announced the shutoff Monday. It said the move means Gazprom will not deliver some 2 billion cubic meters of gas through Oct. 1, the date the supply contract ends.
In its statement cited by the Russian state news agency Tass, Gazprom said that GasTerra has not paid for the gas supplied in April.
The Dutch trader said it has bought gas from other providers in anticipation of a possible Gazprom shutoff and Dutch Climate and Energy Minister Rob Jetten said in a statement that the government understands the cutoff will “have no effect on the physical delivery of gas to Dutch households.”
GasTerra is a private company that is owned by the Dutch arms of energy giants Shell and Esso and the Dutch government.
Biden Won’t Send Rockets to Strike in Russia
President Joe Biden is suggesting that there are no plans for the United States to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, amid reports that the move is being considered.
Biden told reporters outside the White House on Monday that “we are not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia.”
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said that it was a “reasonable” decision.
He said that “otherwise, if our cities come under attack, the Russian armed forces would fulfill (their) threat and strike the centers where such criminal decisions are made.”
Medvedev added that “some of them aren’t in Kyiv.” And he said that “there is no need for a further explanation.”
Kremlin Says Putin, Erdogan Discuss Ukraine
The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken on the phone to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discussed the situation in Ukraine, among other things.
According to the Kremlin’s readout of the Monday call, “the emphasis was placed on the issues of ensuring safe navigation in the Black and Azov Seas, eliminating the mine threat in their waters.”
The readout says Putin “noted the readiness of the Russian side to facilitate the unimpeded maritime transit of goods in coordination with Turkish partners.” It says, “This also applies to the export of grain from Ukrainian ports.”
The Kremlin says Putin “confirmed” to Erdogan that Russia can export “significant amounts of fertilizers and agricultural products” if sanctions against it are lifted.
French Journalist Killed in Ukraine, 1 Hurt
A French news broadcaster says a 32-year-old French journalist has been killed in Ukraine while “covering a humanitarian operation.”
BFM TV says the journalist was fatally hit by shell shrapnel while covering the Ukrainian evacuation operation on Monday. The broadcaster says Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff was in an armored vehicle near Sievierodonetsk, a key city in the Donbass region.
French President Emmanuel Macron has paid tribute to Leclerc-Imhoff. Macron tweeted the journalist “was in Ukraine to show the reality of the war.” Macron says, “Aboard a humanitarian bus, alongside civilians forced to flee to escape Russian bombs, he was fatally shot.”
Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko says another French journalist was wounded along with a Ukrainian woman who was accompanying them.
Hungary’s PM Welcomes Possible Oil Compromise
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is welcoming a proposal for the European Union to slap an embargo on Russian oil transported by ship and to exempt oil pumped overland through Ukraine to his country.
Orban says the idea is a “good approach.” But he wants guarantees that “in the case of an accident with the pipeline” Hungary would “have the right to get Russian oil from other sources.”
Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria rely on Russian oil and are reluctant to impose sweeping sanctions on crude. Russia supplies more than 60 percent of Hungary’s oil.
Orban’s remarks came Monday at an extraordinary EU summit focused on helping Ukraine, with sanctions a clear focus of attention.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala also says that a ban on “sea-transported oil has our support.”
Fiala says his country “simply cannot afford a situation when we’d lack some oil products.”
Germany’s Scholz: EU Oil Agreement ‘Sooner or Later’
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he’s confident that a “good solution” to a standoff over a proposed European Union embargo on Russian oil will be found “sooner or later.”
Scholz said as he arrived at an EU summit Monday that Europe’s unity so far in the face of Russia’s attack on Ukraine sends a good signal “and I am very confident that we will do so in the future too.”
Divisions have emerged over whether to target Russian oil in a new series of sanctions, with Hungary leading objections. But Scholz said he saw talks being conducted “with a will to reach an agreement.”
He didn’t address details of a possible solution but said the EU’s strength lies in solving problems together and he is “firmly convinced that we can continue discussing a good solution with each other today and tomorrow.”
Scholz said: “No one can predict whether this will actually be the case, but everything I hear sounds as though there could be a consensus, and sooner or later there will be one.”
Germany Cuts Red Tape to Issue Visas for Russian Government Critics
Germany will make it faster and easier for critics of the Russian government to come and live in the country based on newly agreed criteria, an interior ministry spokesperson said.
Human rights activists, employees of NGO and civil society groups with a connection to Germany, journalists, and researchers who have taken a stance against the war in Ukraine are among those who qualify to stay in the longer term, said the spokesperson on Monday at a regular government news conference.
The spokesperson added that there was no reliable way to predict how many people this measure would affect.
The move aims to remove some of the red tape involved in Germany’s visa process and guarantee a longer stay than the 90 days allowed under the Schengen tourist visa.
NATO Looks to ‘Historic’ Madrid Summit, With Sweden, Finland
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that next month’s summit in Madrid will be a “historic” opportunity to strengthen the alliance in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Speaking at a gala in Madrid to mark Spain’s 40th year as a NATO member, Stoltenberg said he looked forward to welcoming Sweden and Finland at the summit hosted by Spain’s capital on June 29–30.
“At the Madrid summit, we will chart the way ahead for the next decade,” Stoltenberg said. “We will also be joined by Finland and Sweden, who have just made historic applications to join our alliance. The Madrid summit is an important opportunity to reaffirm our NATO values.”
But the leader of the 30-member alliance didn’t address Turkey’s reluctance to open the doors to Sweden and Finland. Turkey, which commands the second-largest military in NATO behind the United States, has cited the alleged support by the Nordic countries for Kurdish militants that Turkey considers terrorists as reason to reject their applications. Unanimous support is needed to add new NATO members.
On Sunday, when Stoltenberg held a private session with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to prepare the summit, he expressed his confidence that Turkey can be convinced to drop its rejection of the Scandinavian pair.
“Turkey, an important ally, has expressed its concerns, and we have to do what we always do because our decisions are reached by consensus,” he told Spanish state broadcaster TVE.
Next month’s summit will redefine NATO’s strategic priorities for the next decade, which Stoltenberg said include facing Chinese ambitions, the rise of anti-democratic states, and instability in Africa, a top priority for Spain on Europe’s southern flank. But its immediate focus will be on how to continue supporting Ukraine and deter any further aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Germany to Change Constitution to Enable $110 Billion Defense Fund
Germany has agreed to change its constitution to allow for a credit-based special defense fund of 100 billion euros ($107.35 billion) proposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the German finance ministry announced on Sunday.
Germany’s center-right opposition and ruling coalition with center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) said they reached the required two-thirds majority to exempt the defense fund from a constitutional debt brake.
The money is to be used over several years to increase Germany’s regular defense budget of around 50 billion euros and enable the country to meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of its economic output on defense each year.
Heavy Fighting as Russian Troops Enter Outskirts of Sievierodonetsk
Russian troops have entered the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, the regional governor said on Monday, describing “very fierce” fighting in the ruins of a city that has become the focus of Moscow’s offensive.
Russia has concentrated its firepower on the last major population center still held by Ukrainian forces in the eastern Luhansk Province, in a push to achieve one of President Vladimir Putin’s stated objectives after three months of war.
Incessant shelling has left Ukrainian forces defending ruins in Sievierodonetsk, but their refusal to withdraw has slowed the massive Russian offensive across the Donbass region.
Luhansk region governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had advanced into the city’s southeastern and northeastern fringes. But he said Ukrainian forces had driven the Russians out of the village of Toshkivka to the south, potentially frustrating Moscow’s push to encircle the area.
“Capturing Sievierodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupiers … We do all we can to hold this advance,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a televised speech.
European Union leaders were due to meet on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a new sanctions package against Russia, potentially including an oil embargo.
But EU governments have been unable to reach an agreement in a month of talks, with Hungary in particular saying it cannot afford to shut off the Russian oil that supplies its refineries through the huge Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.
Ahead of the summit, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck expressed fears that EU unity was “starting to crumble.”
But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell claimed that “there will be an agreement in the end,” with a deal on the next sanctions package by Monday afternoon.
Authorities: At Least 5 Civilians Die in New Strikes
Authorities in a Russia-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine say at least five civilians have been killed in new Ukrainian shelling.
The separatist authorities said those killed during the shelling of the city of Donetsk included a 13-year-old boy. They said another 13 civilians have been wounded in shelling Monday that damaged three schools in the city.
Donetsk Mayor Alexei Kulemzin said that the Ukrainian forces apparently used U.S.–supplied artillery systems in the attack.
Official Says Grain Being Sent to Russia
An official installed by Russia in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine says grain from the area is being sent to Russia.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russia-backed administration for the Kherson region, told Russia’s Tass state news agency on Monday that grain from last year’s harvest was being delivered to Russian buyers.
“There is space for storing [the next crop] although obviously there is a lot of grain here,” Stremousov was quoted as saying. “Now people are partially exporting, having reached agreements with those who are buying from the [Russian] side.”
Tass also reported that Stremousov said sunflower seeds could be sent to Russian processing plants to make sunflower oil.
Ukraine has accused Russia of looting grain and farm equipment from territories held by its forces and the United States has alleged Russia is jeopardizing global food supplies by preventing Ukraine from exporting its harvest.
Russian troops overran most of the Kherson region in the early weeks of the war and have tightened their grip on the area since. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visited the region earlier this month and suggested it could become part of “our Russian family.”
Russia Says It Struck Shipyard in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv
Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that its forces had struck a shipbuilding facility in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
Russian artillery struck a hangar in Mykolaiv’s Okean Shipyard, destroying vehicles and other equipment, the ministry said.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the report.
Russia Plans Bond Payment System Like Rubles-for-Gas Scheme to Get Around Sanctions
Russia’s finance chief said Moscow is planning a new system for making foreign bond payments similar to the rubles-for-gas scheme in an effort to prevent a historic sovereign default after Washington ended a key sanctions exemption that raised Russia’s chances of defaulting on its debt.
Anton Siluanov, Russia’s finance minister, was cited by Vedomosti on May 30 as saying that the new system that is in the works would basically mirror the one in place that lets foreign buyers of Russian natural gas settle the transactions without falling afoul of sanctions.
In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would require “unfriendly” countries to pay for natural gas in rubles by opening several accounts at Gazprombank, then make payments in euros or dollars, which Russia’s settlement infrastructure converts into the Russian currency.
Siluanov told Vedomosti that the new bond settlement system would operate in much the same way, but “in reverse” and in a way that bypasses Western payment infrastructure.
UK Claims Russia Suffers Devastating Losses Among Lower-ranked Officers
Russia appears to have suffered devastating losses amongst mid- and junior-ranking officers in its conflict with Ukraine, raising the prospect of weaker military effectiveness in the future, Britain’s defense ministry claimed on Monday.
Brigade and battalion commanders were probably deploying to the most dangerous positions while junior officers have had to lead low-level tactical actions, the ministry said on Twitter in its latest Defence Intelligence update.
“With multiple credible reports of localised mutinies amongst Russia’s forces in Ukraine, a lack of experienced and credible platoon and company commanders is likely to result (in) a further decrease in morale and continued poor discipline,” it said.
The loss of younger officers was likely to exacerbate Russia’s problems in modernizing its military command and control, the ministry claimed.
“More immediately, battalion tactical groups which are being reconstituted in Ukraine from survivors of multiple units are likely to be less effective due to a lack of junior leaders,” it said.
Ukraine Get Missiles, Howitzers as Zelenskyy Expects Good News on Arms
Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States, arms that will bolster forces fighting Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday.
He said Harpoon shore-to-ship missiles would be operated alongside Ukrainian Neptune missiles to defend the coast, including the southern port of Odesa.
Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration in southern Ukraine, said in an online post that “so many Harpoons have been handed over to us that we can sink the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet. Why not?”
Reznikov said Ukraine had also received a range of heavy artillery pieces, including modified U.S.–made M109 self-propelled howitzers that will allow the Ukrainian military to strike targets from longer distances.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed Ukraine, working to boost weapons supplies, was approaching the point where it would outnumber the Russians technologically and in terms of its ability to strike.
“Of course, a lot depends on our partners and their readiness to provide Ukraine with everything necessary to protect freedom. And I expect good news on this next week,” he said in a late-night video, without giving details.
Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said late on Saturday that “the weapons we so desperately need will most likely be delivered soon.”
Key will be a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels in mid-June, attended by Reznikov, Arestovych said on social media television. “If the allies in the West do not delay … then around June 20 the situation on the front will change greatly in our favor.”
Ukrainian Defenders Hold Out in Donbass City Under Heavy Fire
Russian forces intensified their attacks with barrages of heavy artillery to capture a key Ukrainian city in the southeastern region of Donbass, whose full takeover Moscow’s top diplomat said was now an “unconditional priority.”
Constant Russian shelling has destroyed all of the critical infrastructures in Sievierodonetsk, the largest city Ukraine still controls in Luhansk, one of the regions in Donbass, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, while pledging to do everything to hold off the advance.
“Some 90 percent of buildings are damaged. More than two-thirds of the city’s housing stock has been completely destroyed. There is no telecommunication,” he said in a televised speech.
“Capturing Sievierodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupiers … We do all we can to hold this advance,” he added.
Ukraine’s Donbass ‘Unconditional Priority’ for Moscow: Russia’s Lavrov
The “liberation” of Ukraine’s Donbass region is an “unconditional priority” for Moscow, while other Ukrainian territories should decide their future on their own, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday.
Lavrov was speaking in an interview with France’s TF1 television channel as Russia pressed on with its offensive to secure control of key towns in Donbass, Ukraine’s traditional industrial heartland made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
He reiterated Moscow’s claims that its “special military operation” in Ukraine is to demilitarize its neighbor after waves of NATO’s eastward expansion and cleanse it of what it sees as “Nazi”-inspired nationalism. Kyiv refutes those claims as baseless pretexts for a land grab.
“The liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, recognized by the Russian Federation as independent states, is an unconditional priority,” Lavrov said, according to a text released by Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
For the rest of the territories in Ukraine, he said: “I do not believe that they will be happy to return to the authority of a neo-Nazi regime that has proven it is Russophobic in essence. These people must decide for themselves.”
Russia’s incursion, he said, became “inevitable” after Western countries failed to heed what he described as warnings about Ukraine’s disregard for, and military attacks on, its Russian-speaking citizens.
Ukraine has denied making any such attacks.
Zelenskyy Visits Frontline in Rare Trip Outside Kyiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited troops on the frontline in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region on Sunday, his first official appearance outside the Kyiv region since the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
“You risk your lives for us all and for our country,” the president’s office website cited him as telling the soldiers, adding that he handed out commendations and gifts.
Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on the Telegram app that the president had also visited Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv.
Yermak said Zelenskyy toured destroyed residential buildings, noting that their replacements had to be built with bomb shelters in place.
The president’s chief of staff added that 31 percent of the Kharkiv region’s territory was currently occupied by Russia, and a further 5 percent had been taken back by Ukraine having been occupied earlier.
Tom Ozimek, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.