French president Emmanuel Macron said he was in favour of banning imports of Russian oil and coal as part of a new round of sanctions against Russia over signs its forces had committed war crimes on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Macron on Monday joined a chorus of western condemnation after reports of atrocities and mass graves emerged over the weekend from Bucha, a city about 25km north-west of Kyiv, and other areas that were until recently under Russian occupation.
“There are very clear indications of war crimes,” the French president said in an interview on France Inter radio on Monday. “What happened in Bucha demands a new round of sanctions and very clear measures, so we will co-ordinate with our European partners, especially with Germany.”
He added: “I think that on oil and coal we must be able to move forward. We should certainly advance on sanctions . . . We can’t accept this.” He did not call for a ban on imports of Russian gas, which remains a crucial fuel source for Germany, Italy and some eastern European countries.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said the bloc would hold Russia and its government accountable for “war crimes” in Ukraine and would work on new sanctions against Moscow “as a matter of urgency”.
“Haunting images of large numbers of civilian deaths and casualties, as well as destruction of civilian infrastructures show the true face of the brutal war of aggression Russia is waging against Ukraine and its people,” 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.”
EU ambassadors are set to discuss a new package of sanctions on Wednesday. The bloc — whose rotating presidency is currently held by Macron — has so far held back on banning the imports of Russian natural gas, oil and coal on which some of its members heavily depend.
Russia exports about 8mn barrels per day of crude oil, condensates and refined products around the world, of which 4.5mn b/d goes to Europe. Around 1m b/d per day arrives via the Druzhba pipeline, mainly to landlocked refiners in eastern Europe.
Russia is also a big supplier of thermal coal to the EU, accounting for 70 per cent, or 36mn tonnes, of the bloc’s imports last year, according to Eurostat.
Some EU countries have unveiled plans to drastically reduce their use of Russian commodities in the months and years ahead. But Berlin has resisted an immediate halt to imports because it does not have sufficient alternative sources of supply available in the near term.
Lars Klingbeil, head of Germany’s governing Social Democrats, said “an immediate gas embargo [is] the wrong path, for many reasons”.
“Every day we are closing the gas tap a little more,” he added. But to stop gas supplies overnight, “we would have to talk about the consequences that would have for us in Germany”.
Robert Habeck, economy minister, said Germany had made good progress over the past four weeks in reducing its dependence on Russian gas.
“We are pursuing a strategy of making ourselves independent of Russian gas, coal and oil, but not immediately,” he said on Sunday night on TV channel ZDF. He reiterated that Germany plans to stop Russian coal imports by the end of the summer and Russian oil imports by the end of the year.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address late on Sunday: “It is time to do everything possible to make the war crimes of the Russian military the last manifestation of such evil on earth.”
Iryna Venedyktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, said 410 bodies of civilians had been recovered from the Kyiv region.
Russia “categorically rejects any accusations” its forces killed civilians en masse in Bucha, the Kremlin said on Monday.
Dmitry Peskov, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, cast “serious doubt” on reports of mass graves with hundreds of murdered civilians in Bucha. “From what we have seen, the video materials mostly can’t be trusted, because specialists from the defense ministry found signs of video manipulation and some fakes or others,” Peskov told reporters, according to Interfax.
Russia’s defence ministry claimed earlier that no civilians were harmed during its occupation of Bucha.
China, which has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, offered a muted response on Monday. State media did not mention the alleged killings, and posts on Chinese social media by prominent bloggers questioned the veracity of the reports.
Zelensky vowed that a “mechanism of justice” would be formed by the foreign affairs ministry, the prosecutor-general’s office and other branches of government to help “bring to concrete justice those who unleashed or in any way participated in . . . crimes against our people”.
Zelensky also criticised former western leaders who were slow to react to Vladimir Putin’s aggression and had offered too many concessions to the Russian president for more than a decade. “More conclusions are needed. Not only about Russia, but also about the political behaviour that actually allowed this evil to come to our land,” he said.
Separately, the Ukrainian army said it had retaken more territory from Russian forces, reclaiming a village near Chernihiv, about 150km north-east of the capital, and Pripyat outside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, about 150km north-west of Kyiv.
But the military warned that Russia would continue to attack critical infrastructure, particularly in the besieged port city of Mariupol, and in Odesa, which was targeted at the weekend.
The mayor of Mykolayiv, Oleksandr Senkevych, said Russian troops launched several rocket attacks on the southern city early on Monday.
Additional reporting by Neil Hume in London