BRUSSELS — European Union ambassadors meeting for a second day in Brussels on Thursday afternoon entered what officials said would be their last round of negotiations to approve a fifth package of sanctions against Russia, having dragged out the talks longer than expected, and inserting important limitations to the new measures.
The lengthy deliberations and watering down of some measures highlighted that the bloc’s appetite for fresh sanctions, which are increasingly hurting European economies, was diminishing, even in the wake of wrenching images of slaughter in Ukraine as Russian troops withdrew from areas around Kyiv to focus their offensive in the country’s east.
Demands by Ukraine to expand sanctions to Russian oil and gas, which the United States supports, are meeting profound resistance by E.U. countries heavily reliant on Russian energy.
A ban on Russian coal imports, an important, $4.4 billion measure that would especially hurt Germany, would be phased in over four months, instead of the three originally proposed by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, according to E.U. diplomats familiar with the evolution of the talks. Germany and Bulgaria had been advocating for a longer transition period into the coal ban to wind down existing contracts.
And a proposed measure to ban Russian and Russian-operated vessels from E.U. ports would likely just include vessels bearing the Russian flag, after insistence by Greece, Cyprus and Malta, officials said. While that measure would include vessels that opportunistically switched out of the Russian flag in recent weeks, after the Feb. 24 invasion, to evade sanctions, it would not affect a large number of vessels that operate for, or are owned by, Russian firms but carry flags such as those of St. Kitts or Belize, which are popular in global shipping because of tax benefits.
The European Union has taken major steps to sever its close financial links to Russia in the weeks since the invasion began, in lock step with the United States, Britain and other allies, but a growing fatigue is slowing efforts to expand those measures.
The ambassadors’ meeting is expected to agree on the new sanctions later Thursday evening; individual governments will then rubber stamp the measures in writing, a formality, before they come into effect.