EU leaders, divided over Russian oil embargo, seek solution

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders struggled Monday to agree to impose an oil embargo on Russia, as Ukraine’s president urged them to put aside their differences and approve a sanctions package long-delayed aimed at exerting increased economic pressure on Moscow to stop the war.

The EU has already imposed five rounds of sanctions on Russia for its war. It targets more than 1,000 people, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and senior government officials, as well as pro-Kremlin oligarchs, banks, the coal industry, and more.

But a sixth package of measures, announced on May 4, has been delayed by concerns over oil supplies. The EU gets about 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, and the divisions embarrass the 27-nation trading bloc and expose the limits of its ambitions.

Addressing EU leaders on Monday via video link in a 10-minute message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged them to put an end to “internal arguments which only incite Russia to exercise more and more pressure on the whole of Europe”.

He said the sanctions package must “be agreed upon, it must be effective, including (on) oil”, so that Moscow “feels the price of what it is doing against Ukraine” and the rest of the world. ‘Europe. Only then, Zelenskyy said, will Russia be forced to “start looking for peace.”

This is not the first time he has demanded the EU target Russia’s lucrative energy sector and deprive Moscow of billions of dollars every day in supply payments.

But Hungary leads a group of EU countries – with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria – which are heavily dependent on Russian oil and cannot afford to turn off the pumps. Hungary gets more than 60% of its oil from Russia and 85% of its natural gas.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said emphatically arriving at the two-day summit in Brussels that a deal was not in sight, while Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala suggested that delaying oil sanctions against Russia could be a solution.

“We are ready to get rid of our dependence on energy sources from Russia…but we are not able to do so in the short term,” Fiala said.

According to several diplomats, the leaders will try to reach an agreement for an EU embargo on Russian oil transported by sea by the end of the year, which would cover more than two thirds of oil imports. EU from Russia.

Orban said he could support the new sanctions if the security of Hungary’s oil supply was guaranteed. Hungary and Slovakia depend on Russian oil which passes through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.

The problem with Russian oil transported by sea is that countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands – which depend most on this form – would suffer a spike in oil prices, distorting competition as Hungary would continue to to buy cheaper Russian oil.

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins urged his European counterparts to overcome their differences over oil, saying member countries “get a bit bogged down in all the details and we forget about the big picture”.

“It’s just money, and Ukrainians are paying with their lives,” he said. “It is only when Russia is defeated that we in Europe can feel safe.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was cautiously optimistic. “Everything I hear gives the impression that a consensus could be reached and, sooner or later, it will be,” he told reporters.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen all but ruled out a breakthrough at the summit, saying “my expectations are low that this will be resolved in the next 48 hours.”

If passed, the new sanctions package will also include an asset freeze and a travel ban for individuals. Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, would be excluded from SWIFT, the world’s main financial transfer system. Three major Russian public broadcasters will also be barred from distributing their content in the EU.

The two-day summit will also focus on continued EU financial support for Ukraine – likely the approval of a 9 billion euro ($9.7 billion) tranche of aid – and on military aid and the investigation of war crimes.

The issue of food security will be on the table on Tuesday, with leaders ready to encourage their governments to speed up work on ‘solidarity pathways’ to help Ukraine export grain and other products.

Some protesters gathered outside EU buildings ahead of the summit on Monday, holding signs such as “No to Russian oil and gas”.


Karel Janicek contributed to this story from Prague.


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