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European Council president Charles Michel said on Wednesday that European Union countries should think about ways to offer asylum to Russian soldiers willing to desert Ukraine battlefields.
During an address to the European Parliament, Michel expressed his “outrage at crimes against humanity, against innocent civilians in Bucha and in many other cities,” then called on Russian soldiers to disobey orders.
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Michel referred to the town outside of Kyiv where graphic evidence of killings and torture has emerged following the withdrawal of Russian forces. He said he wanted to deliver a message to Russian soldiers waging the war started by Moscow against its neighbor on Feb. 24.
“If you want no part in killing your Ukrainian brothers and sisters, if you don’t want to be a criminal, drop your arms, stop fighting, leave the battlefield,” said Michel, who represents the bloc’s governments.
Endorsing an idea previously circulated by some EU lawmakers, Michel added that granting asylum to Russian deserters is “a valuable idea that should be pursued.”
A day after the European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — proposed a ban on coal imports from Russia as part of a fifth round of sanctions, Michel said the bloc should keep up the pressure on the Kremlin.
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“The new package includes a ban on coal imports,” Michel said. “I think that measures on oil, and even gas, will also be needed, sooner or later.”
The European Commission said the proposed ban on coal imports is worth 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) per year, and that the EU has already started working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports.
A consensus among the 27 EU countries on targeting gas, the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes, would be difficult to secure amid opposition from gas-dependent members like Germany, the bloc’s largest economy.
The new package of measures proposed by the commission also includes sanctions on more individuals and four key Russian banks, among them VTB, the second-largest Russian bank. The bloc also would ban Russian vessels and Russian-operated vessels from EU ports. Further targeted export bans, worth 10 billion euros, in sectors covering quantum computers, advanced semiconductors, sensitive machinery and transportation equipment also were proposed.
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The package must be adopted unanimously by all 27 EU countries.