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EU country calls for ‘pause’ in anti-Russia sanctions

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has welcomed the EU agreement on a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow but called for a “pause” until the impact of the measures is known.

Earlier on Tuesday, EU Council President Charles Michel confirmed that the bloc’s member states had agreed in principle a sixth round of anti-Russia sanctions, which include a partial embargo on Russian oil. The sanctions are being imposed in response to Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine.

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Speaking to journalists ahead of day two of the EU summit in Brussels, De Croo said the impact of oil sanctions would be “enormous” and thus “a pause” is needed.

For Belgium, this package is a big step forward, let’s stop there for now and see its impact,” the prime minister said.

He added that the main priority now is to find the best way “to keep energy prices under control.”

READ MORE: EU reaches agreement on Russian oil

Meanwhile, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on Tuesday called on the EU to discuss a gas embargo as part of the next package of sanctions. However, she made clear that she did not anticipate that the bloc would go for such measures any time soon. European Commission data shows the European Union receives 40% of its gas from Russia.

“I think that gas has to be in the seventh package but I am realistic as well. I don’t think it will be there,” she told journalists.

Accordingly, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said that gas would “not be discussed in the next sanctions package.

The sixth package of measures, which is expected to be approved on Wednesday, excludes Sber, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT financial messaging system. It also bans three more Russian broadcasters from the EU, and imposes further individual sanctions on Russian citizens, according to media reports.

EU leaders have indicated that Russian pipeline oil will have to be banned at some point in the future.

President Vladimir Putin has accused European leaders of committing economic “suicide” by attempting to give up Russian energy.

Moscow considers the sanctions “unlawful” and “unjustified,” and has been retaliating with its own countermeasures. It has insisted that payments for natural gas supplies must be made in rubles.

READ MORE: Russian gas embargo not on the table – Austria

Russia attacked its neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.

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