EU leaders agree on partial Russian oil embargo


Brussels (AFP) – European Union leaders reached a compromise on Monday to impose a partial oil embargo on Russia at a summit focused on helping Ukraine with a long-awaited package of sanctions that Hungary blocked.

The softened ban covers only Russian oil brought in by sea, allowing a temporary exemption for pipeline-delivered imports. European Union Council President Charles Michel said the agreement covers more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia.

The new sanctions package will also include asset freezes and travel bans for individuals, while Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, will be excluded from SWIFT, the major global system for remittances from which the European Union previously banned many smaller Russian banks. Three major Russian state-owned broadcasters will be banned from distributing their content in the European Union.

“We want to stop the Russian war machine,” Michel said, praising what he called a “remarkable achievement.”

“It is more important than ever that we show that we can be strong, that we can be resolute, that we can be strong,” he added.

Michel said the new sanctions, which needed the support of all 27 member states, would be legally ratified on Wednesday.

The European Union had already imposed five previous rounds of sanctions on Russia over its war. It has targeted more than 1,000 people individually, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and senior government officials as well as loyal oligarchs to the Kremlin, banks, the coal sector and more.

But the sixth package of measures announced on May 4 was held back by concerns about oil supplies.

The impasse embarrassed the bloc, which was forced to scale back its ambitions in a bid to annex Hungary. When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed the package, the initial goal was to phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.

Both Michel and von der Leyen said leaders would soon return to the issue, in an effort to secure a ban on Russian oil exports via pipelines to the European Union at a later date.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made it clear that he can support the new sanctions only if the security of his country’s oil supplies is guaranteed. The landlocked country gets more than 60% of its oil from Russia and relies on crude oil that comes through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Union’s executive branch, played down the chances of a breakthrough at the summit. But the leaders reached a compromise after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged them to end “the internal arguments that only pushed Russia to put more and more pressure on the whole of Europe”.

Von der Leyen said the punitive move would “effectively reduce about 90% of oil imports from Russia into the EU by the end of the year”.

The European Union gets about 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, and divisions over the issue have exposed the limits of the 27-nation trading bloc’s ambitions.

In his 10-minute video address, Zelensky asked the leaders to end “the internal arguments that only pushed Russia to put more and more pressure on the whole of Europe.”

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

This was not the first time that the European Union had called for targeting Russia’s lucrative energy sector and depriving Moscow of billions of dollars each day in supply payments.

But Hungary leads a group of European Union countries Concerned about the impact of the oil embargo on their economies, including Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. Hungary is highly dependent on Russia for energy and cannot afford to turn off the pumps. In addition to its need for Russian oil, Hungary gets 85% of its natural gas from Russia.

Orban was insisting that he reach the summit in Brussels, saying that an agreement was not in sight, stressing that Hungary needed to secure its energy supplies.

Von der Leyen and Michel said the commitment of Germany and Poland to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year and abandon oil from the northern part of the Druzhba pipeline would help cut 90% of Russian oil imports.

The summit also focused on the European Union’s continued financial support to Ukraine by approving a 9 billion euro ($9.7 billion) tranche of aid.

The issue of food security will be on the table on Tuesday, as leaders prepare 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 on Monday before the summit, holding up banners such as “No to Russian oil and gas”.


Karel Janicek contributed to this story from Prague.


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