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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen deliver a press statement on Ukraine, at EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Feb 24, 2022.KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/The Associated Press

European Union leaders will impose new sanctions on Russia, freezing its assets, halting its banks’ access to European financial markets and hitting “Kremlin interests” over its invasion of Ukraine, senior officials said on Thursday.

The bloc will also target Russia’s trade, energy and transport, among other sectors, and include export controls in what the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell described as “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented.”

An emergency summit starting at 1900 GMT will also discuss offering EU candidate status to Ukraine, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said, a step Kyiv has long called for, though it may not win approval from all EU leaders.

There are differences of view, too, across the 27 member states over how far to go with the sanctions, with some that could face the harshest economic backlash themselves pressing ahead of the summit to keep the most severe steps in reserve.

Russian forces rained missiles on Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, and landed troops on its Black and Azov Sea coasts on Thursday, in the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War Two.

The EU said it had summoned Russia’s ambassador to Brussels to condemn “the unprovoked, unjustified invasion”, warning him that a new “hard-hitting” package of sanctions would be decided at the summit in co-ordination with its transatlantic partners.

“Russia’s leadership will face unprecedented isolation,” Borrell said, condemning the Russian invasion as one of “the darkest hours for Europe since the end of World War Two.”

‘Massive and severe consequences’

A draft of the EU summit’s conclusions, seen by Reuters, said the new round of sanctions “will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action, in close co-ordination with our partners and allies.”

Russian assets in the EU would also be frozen and Russian banks’ access to Europe’s financial markets would be stopped.

However, cutting Russia off the SWIFT global interbank payments system – one of the toughest non-military sanctions the West could impose – is unlikely to be agreed at this stage, several EU sources said.

“You can expect a lot on export bans, the financial sector, transport, energy … nothing is excluded,” a senior EU official said.

Differing levels of dependency on Russian gas across EU member states could complicate the adoption of sanctions or limit their ambition, with some keen to see a gradual approach.

“Whereas some members have pushed for stronger sanctions in the face of a full-out Russian invasion, others are reluctant,” one EU diplomat said.

The diplomat said Italy, Germany and Cyprus are among those that prefer a step-by-step approachm while Central European and Baltic states – those closest to Russia – want a harder stance.

The EU approved a first round of sanctions on Wednesday, including blacklisting Russian politicians and curbing trade between the EU and two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine whose independence Moscow has recognized.

“With this (new) package, we will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to technologies and markets that are key to Russia,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said, condemning Russia’s “barbaric attack.”

“We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernize,” she said.

The EU will also prepare new sanctions against Belarus. Ukraine’s border guard service said Russian troops used Belarus as one of their entry points with Belarusian support.

The EU will also prepare a new aid package for Ukraine and help with evacuation operations, including of EU staff.

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