Grant asylum to Russian deserters

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Council President Charles Michel said on Wednesday that European Union countries should consider ways to grant asylum to Russian soldiers ready to leave Ukraine’s battlefields.

During an address to the European Parliament, Michel expressed his “outrage at crimes against humanity committed against innocent civilians in Bucha and in many other cities” and then urged Russian soldiers to disobey orders.

Michel was referring to the town outside of Kyiv where clear evidence of killings and torture has surfaced following the withdrawal of Russian forces. He said he wanted to deliver a message to Russian soldiers fighting the war Moscow started against its neighbor on February 24.

“If you don’t want to take part in the murder of your Ukrainian brothers and sisters, if you don’t want to be a criminal, drop your guns, stop fighting, leave the battlefield,” said Michel, who represents the bloc’s governments .

Backing an idea previously floated 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 branch – 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.

“The new package includes a ban on coal imports,” Michel said. “I think action will also be needed in relation to oil and even gas sooner or later.”

The European Commission said the proposed ban on coal imports was worth 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) a year and the EU had 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 achieve 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 against more individuals and four major Russian banks, including VTB, Russia’s second largest bank. The bloc would also ban Russian ships and Russian-operated vessels from EU ports. Other targeted export bans worth €10 billion in sectors such as quantum computing, advanced semiconductors, sensitive machinery and transport equipment have also been proposed.

The package must be approved unanimously by all 27 EU countries.

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