EU leaders agree to Russian oil ban amid relentless assault in eastern Ukraine

Russian forces kept up a relentless onslaught Tuesday in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials said Russians now control half the city of Sievierodonetsk. Meanwhile, Moscow embargoed a European Union agreement to ban 90 percent of Russian oil imports. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    For more on what victory in Ukraine should look like and today's European sanctions on Russia, we turn to Radek Sikorski, a member of the European Parliament who has held a number of senior positions in the Polish government, including defense and foreign minister.

    Radek Sikorski, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    What's your response to Europe's steps today to ban all sea-based Russian oil from coming into Europe, after a compromise with Hungary?

  • Radoslaw Sikorski, European Parliament Member:

    Well, I wouldn't call it a compromise.

    Hungary has simply used its veto power to extract a concession which I think will be used to make money. Hungary actually has a pipeline to the Adriatic Sea, and it could import its oil from there, but it chooses to import it from Vladimir Putin. It's another sign of Hungary breaking E.U.'s NATO's solidarity on this war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Is Viktor Orban being honest when he says that his opposition to this plan was based on avoiding oil that would be more expensive for his citizens to pay?

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    Well, no, he's right that there will be a price to pay for the sanctions.

    But the point is that it's better to pay this price, rather than have Putin on NATO and E.U. border in a few months or a few years' time. And he, instead of rallying around with his allies to stop an aggressive dictator in his tracks, is playing with him and getting individual concessions for his own country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You just heard Henry Kissinger's remarks at Davos, that Ukraine should not try to evict Russia from territory that Russian-backed separatists have held since 2014 in the Donbas and in Crimea.

  • In response:

    "President Zelenskyy said Kissinger's calendar is not 2022, but 1938, and the audience is not Davos, but Munich."

    Is the idea that Kissinger is expressing akin to appeasing Hitler before World War II?

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    Well, in Munich, remember, Czechoslovakia was thrown to the — to Hitler, and it was hoped that this concession would satisfy Hitler and he would then stop. We know what happened.

    Henry should have given this advice in private. And, also, I think he's wrong on substance, because, if Putin gets the Donbass, like he got the Crimea before, he will then rebuild his army, and, in a few years' time, he will go on the offensive again to try to get the rest of Ukraine.

    What his plan is crystal clear from his statements. He wants to extinguish Ukraine as a state and as a people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The counterargument that I speak to Ukrainian officials about even is that Ukraine's military will struggle to reseize territory that Russia has occupied since February 25 and that, if it's inevitable that Russia will hold some territory in Ukraine, why not accept that now, rather than accept it later, after more of Ukraine has been destroyed?

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    Well, if Ukrainian politicians make this judgment, that is their right. It's their country, and it's their people who are being murdered, raped, and taken to Russia.

    Those are very painful decisions for any democratic government to make. But it's not up to us to be forcing Ukraine into those concessions. We should be helping a democracy that's been attacked to defend itself.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Another counterargument to what you're saying is that the more weapons, the more heavy weapons the West provides to Ukraine, the more it could escalate, and lead to a possible conflict between the West and Russia itself.

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    Well, if Russia doesn't want to be hit by Western weapons, there is a very simple thing she could do. Withdrawal from Ukraine.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials tell me specifically on weapons that they're considering providing Ukraine MLRS, multiple-launch rocket systems, including the more mobile HIMARS system, but that President Biden specifically ruled out some of the longer-range versions of those weapons, because he says they could reach into Russia.

    What's your response to that?

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    I think that's prudent. We don't want to make it into a war with Russia.

    We want to help Ukraine defend its own territory. So, I think that's the right course. The NATO ministerial has said that our aim is to chase the Russians out of Ukraine, and not a step further.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Ukrainians say they can't chase the Russians out of Ukraine without those longer-range weapons.

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    Let's start with the launchers. What kind of ammo you supply is then a secondary decision.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the armor, of course, that defines the range of those weapons.

    Finally, just in the time we have left, how do you see this war ending?

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    It'll end when the Russians run out of missiles, and when President Putin and his circle conclude that reviving the empire is too costly in men and treasure.

    But we're not at that point yet.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, this war lasts a long time?

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    It will last as long as the Russians think that they have the God-given right to dominate and conquer neighboring countries.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Radek Sikorski, thank you very much.

  • Radoslaw Sikorski:

    Thank you.

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