EU bans most Russian oil imports to punish Moscow

BRUSSELS (AP) — In the biggest effort to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine, the European Union agreed to ban the vast majority of Russian oil imports after tense negotiations exposed rifts within the bloc.

From the moment Russia invaded on February 24, the West tried to crack down on Moscow’s lucrative energy sector to cut off funding for its war. But any such move is a double-edged sword, especially in Europe, which depends on 25% of its oil and 40% of its natural gas. European countries, which are more dependent on Russia, are particularly reluctant to act.

Just a few months ago, EU leaders took the unlikely step of agreeing late Monday to cut Russian oil imports by about 90% over the next six months.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Crowe called the embargo a “big step forward” and Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin called it “a watershed moment”. But both leaders warned that it would take time for Europe to adjust to the impact – that any further bans on Russian energy would be implemented slowly.

In response to the EU’s decision, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to the Vienna International Organization, tweeted: “Russia will look for other importers.”

Russia has also not shied away from withholding its energy supplies, although it could suffer financial losses as a result. Russian energy giant Gazprom announced on Tuesday that it will cut off gas supplies to Dutch trader GasTerra and is considering cutting off supplies to Denmark. It has closed taps in Bulgaria, Poland and Finland.

GasTerra said the move was announced after rejecting Gazprom’s “unilateral payment request.” This refers to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request for European countries to pay for gas in rubles – an arrangement many rejected. GasTerra said the home would not be affected because it had purchased gas elsewhere and was expected to close.

Talks at EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday will focus on how to end the trade bloc’s reliance on Russian energy by diversifying supplies and accelerating the transition to renewables and moving away from fossil fuels as much as possible amid soaring energy costs.

As the global food crisis intensifies, leaders are also expected to discuss how to help Ukraine export millions of tons of food trapped within the country.

EU leaders plan to call on Russia to stop attacks on Ukraine’s transport infrastructure and lift blockades on Black Sea ports so food can be shipped. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Russia has blocked the export of 22 million tonnes of grain, most of which is for people in the Middle East and Africa. He accused Moscow of “deliberately creating this problem”.

In other developments:

– Russian troops have captured about half of a major city in eastern Ukraine, according to the mayor. Analysts have portrayed the battle of Donetsk in West Ville as part of the Kremlin’s race against time: the city is part of Russia’s efforts to quickly complete its occupation of the industrial area of ​​eastern Donbass before more Western weapons arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defenses The essential.

– A Ukrainian court on Tuesday convicted two Russian soldiers of war crimes for shelling civilian buildings. It sentenced two men to 11 1/2 years in prison, ending the country’s second war crimes trial since the Russian invasion.

The EU oil embargo is linked to a package of new sanctions that will also target Russia’s largest bank and state media accused of spreading propaganda, covering crude oil and oil products, but not pipelined oil.

The exception was requested by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who made it clear that he could support the new sanctions only if Hungary’s oil supply was secured. More than 60 percent of Hungary’s oil comes from Russia, much of it via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.

The EU estimates that this means about 90 percent of Russian oil will be banned by the end of the year. The figure includes a ban on all Russian oil by sea – which accounts for two-thirds of EU imports – and the decision by Germany and Poland to stop using oil from the northern branch of the Druzhba pipeline.

The sanctions package still has to be finalized in the next few days – leaders said waivers for the pipeline will be reviewed “as soon as possible”, although they did not specify when.

It is increasingly difficult to reach consensus among EU leaders when important national interests come into play, and Hungary has become a thorn in the side of the EU.

But despite all the difficulties, the sanctions package — the sixth in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — was agreed in about a month, fairly swift for 27 countries with very different national interests.

Agreeing on another round of measures could be tougher — especially since the next discussion is whether to target gas, which is harder to cut off. This is because it represents a larger proportion of Europe’s energy mix.

The compromise came after Zelensky again urged leaders to target Russian oil.

He said in a video address that it will only be forced to “start seeking peace” if Moscow “pays the price for what it has done to Ukraine.”


Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands contributed to this report.

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