Give asylum to Russian deserters

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Council President Charles Michel said Wednesday that European Union countries should consider ways to offer asylum to Russian soldiers who want to desert Ukrainian battlefields.

During a speech in the European Parliament, Michel expressed his “outrage at crimes against humanity, against innocent civilians in Bucha and many other cities”, then called on Russian soldiers to disobey orders.

Michel referred to the town outside Kyiv where graphic evidence of murder and torture emerged after Russian forces withdrew. He said he wanted to deliver a message to Russian soldiers leading the war that Moscow launched against its neighbor on February 24.

“If you don’t want to participate in the murder of your Ukrainian brothers and sisters, if you don’t want to be a criminal, lay down your arms, stop fighting, leave the battlefield,” said Michel, who represents the governments of the block.

Supporting an idea previously floated by some European lawmakers, Michel added that granting asylum to Russian deserters is “a valid idea that should be pursued.”

A day after the European Commission – the executive arm of the EU – 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 that action on oil, and even gas, will also be needed, sooner or later.”

The European Commission said the proposed ban on coal imports was worth 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) a year, and that the EU had already started working on additional sanctions, including 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 in the face of opposition from gas-dependent members such as Germany, the biggest block economy.

The new package of measures proposed by the commission also includes sanctions against more individuals and against four major Russian banks, including VTB, Russia’s second largest bank. The bloc would also ban Russian vessels and Russian-operated vessels from EU ports. New targeted export bans worth €10 billion in sectors covering quantum computers, advanced semiconductors, sensitive machinery and transport equipment have also been proposed.

The package must be adopted unanimously by the 27 EU countries.

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