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Sanctions on Russian oil will have 'direct impact' on Ukraine war, says country's trade rep

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By Christopher Pitchers  & Shona Murray
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FILE - The tanker Sun Arrows loads its cargo of liquefied natural gas from the Sakhalin-2 project in the port of Prigorodnoye, Russia, on Oct. 29, 2021.
FILE - The tanker Sun Arrows loads its cargo of liquefied natural gas from the Sakhalin-2 project in the port of Prigorodnoye, Russia, on Oct. 29, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo, FILE

EU member states imposed a fifth round of sanctions on Russia at the end of last week but ahead of an expected escalation in the east, many will now be wondering where the bloc could hit Moscow next.

The sanctions last week included the first embargo on Russian energy with a stop on coal imports, and pressure is now building for EU member states to stop importing oil gas from Russia.

At the same time, some of the world's biggest players, including China and India, have stayed firm in their positions of neutrality in the war.

Euronews spoke with Ukraine's trade representative and deputy economy minister, Taras Kachka, to find out what his country thinks are the most crucial sectors to target in Russia as well as why he thinks countries currently sitting on the fence will eventually turn their backs on Putin's Russia.

Watch the full interview in the video player above. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

Euronews: What does Kyiv think of the latest package of sanctions?

Kachka: "This is a really good signal that the pressure on Russia is increasing and continues to increase. Of course, our request to our partners, especially in Europe, is very clear. We want to cut their [Russia’s] sources of finance in the war [in Ukraine]…Russia receives about one-third of their public revenues and budgets from exporting oil…Oil is so important [to sanction] for us because of its direct impact on the Russian ability to continue and increase aggression against Ukraine."

There has been a lot of talk recently about stopping gas. Is that not more lucrative for Moscow?

Kachka: "The gas industry is constructed in a way that it creates a lot of revenue for the Russian economy, but less revenue for the Russian budget, so when we are talking about public finances, oil is the biggest source of public finances for the state budget for Russia. But gas is a source of enrichment for all the people in the Russian authority. Therefore, gas is important…but we need to be aware that the Russian army is financed by the export of oil."

Is it not easier said than done for Europe to just stop vital energy imports like oil and gas?

Kachka: "It will be a very difficult project. So we are conscious [of this] because, as well, for us, this project was difficult even immediately before the resumption of Russian aggression on February 24. We imported almost 90% of our diesel from Russia and Belarus because it was commercially far more efficient and logistically more efficient."

"In the case of war, comfort is secondary, it's for later [on]. So, that's why we understand that this is for the general security of Europe and that we need to cut the finances to the Russian Army because it destroys Ukraine and threatens all the region...we believe that it is feasible that we can reorient the supply of oil and fuel from other states. Of course, it is difficult. The scale of the problem is big, but we have no other options. And we have no time to wait because the situation will not be easier. It will get worse and worse."

Can you explain how an oil ban might impact the war?

Kachka: "It means that there will be a limited capacity to pay salaries to the Russian soldiers. It will be impossible to produce weapons by Russian factories, logistics, etc. So, if you cut your finances by one source, you immediately should limit expenditures. You [Russia] have no other options or maybe speed up the ruining of your economy or your public finances. In any case, the result will be visible here and now. So that's why it is so important."

And what about the stance of neutral countries like India and China? Do you believe they will try to circumvent Western sanctions?

Kachka: "With all the attempts to develop relations with India and China by Russia, it is clear that Europe is more important, even for Russia, because if Europe will stop buying Russian oil, it will not be replaced by India and China...For China and India, Europe and the Western world is more important than Russia...they try to be neutral, advocating for a resolution of conflict. But in the end, they will be on the proper side of this story...I think that in terms of calculations, who is a better partner, Russia or Europe? I think Europe is the better partner for China and India."