EU proposes total ban on oil imports from Russia

The European Union has proposed some of its toughest measures yet against Russia, including a total ban on oil imports and sanctions on war crimes suspects.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the package was aimed at maximising pressure on Russia while minimising damage to Europe.

Russian crude oil would be phased out within six months, she said.

Hungary has rejected the proposal as unacceptable and the Czech and Slovak governments want a transition period.

The EU has been focusing for weeks on how to wean itself off Russian oil and gas. It has already pledged to reduce gas imports by two-thirds by the end of 2022 and now plans to phase out crude oil over six months and refined products by the end of 2022.

“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion,” the Commission president said.

The package first has to be approved by EU ambassadors and is set to be signed off in the next few days.

But Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said his country would veto it in its current form: “They exactly know that what they are proposing is against Hungarian interests . . . and if we do that we are completely going to ruin the Hungarian economy.”

Slovakia as well as Hungary currently relies on Russian oil and under the initial proposal would be given until the end of 2023 to find alternative suppliers. Slovakia’s economy minister said his country wanted a three-year transition period, while Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said he would also seek a two-to-three year exemption to tackle problems with pipeline capacity.

Last year, Russia supplied the EU with a quarter of its oil imports, and the Netherlands and Germany were the biggest buyers.

The Dutch government has said it wants to halt all Russian fossil fuel imports by the end of this year and Germany has drastically reduced its reliance on Russian oil imports, down from 35% to 12%. The UK, which is no longer in the EU, is already phasing out Russian oil, which accounts for 8% of its imports.

German Economics Minister Robert Habeck has said the six-month transition period gives Berlin long enough to make the change.

The problem for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic is that they are all landlocked and rely on their neighbours for fuel supplies. Czech special envoy for energy security Vaclav Bartuska told the BBC that Europe was currently trying to redraw the map of energy supplies as fast as it could: “We want to get rid of Russian crude once and for all and we want to be absolutely sure there’ll be no need to go back and ask Russia again.” (BBC)

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