BRUSSELS — European Union ambassadors gathered for a second day in Brussels on Thursday afternoon began what officials said was their final round of talks to agree a fifth sanctions package against Russia, after dragging talks longer than expected and inserting significant limitations to the new measures.
The lengthy deliberations and watering down of some measures highlighted that the bloc’s appetite for new sanctions, which are increasingly hurting European economies, was waning, even in the wake of heartbreaking images of massacres in Ukraine then that Russian troops were withdrawing from the areas around kyiv to concentrate their offensive in the east of the country.
Ukraine’s demands to extend sanctions on Russian oil and gas, which the United States supports, are meeting deep resistance from EU countries heavily dependent on Russian energy.
A ban on Russian coal imports, a major $4.4 billion measure that would particularly hurt Germany, would be phased in over four months, instead of the three initially proposed by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, according to European diplomats familiar with the progress of the talks. Germany and Bulgaria had pleaded for a longer transition period in the coal ban to terminate existing contracts.
And a proposed measure to ban Russian and Russian-operated vessels from EU ports would likely only include Russian-flagged vessels, after Greece, Cyprus and Malta insisted, officials said. . Although this measure would include ships that opportunistically left the Russian flag in recent weeks after the February 24 invasion to evade sanctions, it would not affect a large number of ships that operate for or belong to Russian companies, but carry flags like those of St. Kitts or Belize, which are popular in global shipping due to tax advantages.
The European Union took significant steps to sever its close financial ties with Russia in the weeks following the start of the invasion, working closely with the United States, Britain and other allies, but growing fatigue is slowing efforts to extend these measures.
Ambassadors’ meeting expected to agree new sanctions on Thursday evening; individual governments will then approve the measures in writing, a formality, before they come into effect.