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Ukraine Conflict

Ukraine conflict: E.U. struggles to find unity on Russian oil embargo

Published : May 07, 2022 16:52 IST T+T-
The E.U. commission hopes a oil embargo could cripple Russia's economy further.

The E.U. commission hopes a oil embargo could cripple Russia's economy further.

Of the 27 E.U. member states deliberating a gradual ban on Russian oil imports, Hungary and Slovakia have opposed the move.

Representatives from E.U. member states gathered in Brussels on May 6 to negotiate a possible gradual embargo on Russian oil imports. In order to implement a Russian oil ban, all 27 E.U. members would need to support the policy.

What do we know about the ongoing talks?

Ukrainian officials have urged the bloc to enact the move, as the latest measure to harm the Russian economy. Yet some E.U. member countries are concerned that that such a policy would result in negative consequences for their economies. "It's not easy to establish unity," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a conference organized by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. "The countries that are now hesitating are not yet ready. We are sitting together with these countries to work out pragmatic things, such as getting alternative oil to these countries."

Hungary and Slovakia, for example, are opposed to an oil embargo because of their dependency on Russian energy. In an interview with state radio, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said an embargo would cross a "red line" for Budapest and claimed von der Leyen "attacked European unity" in backing the policy.

Cyprus, Greece and Malta are also concerned about the idea of prohibiting the transport of Russian oil. The three countries have the largest shipping fleets within the bloc. "It's necessary to take into account concerns of Greece, Malta and of course Cyprus in specific matters relating to the sanctions," Cypriot President Nico Anastasiades told journalists during a visit to Athens. The Cypriot leader met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during the trip and said this sentiment was a "common position" between the two countries.

"We are both clear," Anastasiades continued. "We are against the Russian invasion and of course in favour of sanctions. But these sanctions should be targeted and not selective in serving some member states and leaving others exposed."

Could a tweaked E.U. embargo plan address the concerns by member states?

E.U. sources told Reuters that the E.U. commission had tweaked its oil embargo proposal in order to address the concerns brought forward by member states. The altered plan would reportedly allow Hungary and Slovakia to keep importing Russian oil until the end of 2024.

The original proposal would have halted Russian oil imports into the E.U. within six months and refined oil products by the end of 2022. Hungary and Slovakia would have been given until the end of 2023 to adapt under the original E.U. plan. The tweaked proposal also reportedly includes a three-month transition before banning E.U. shipping firms from the transport of Russian oil to address the concerns by Greece, Malta and Cyprus. The original plan put forward a one-month transition.

Negotiations on the embargo could continue well into the weekend. Other ideas for sanctions reportedly under consideration include financial measures such as kicking Russia's Sberbank off the global SWIFT financial system. Some E.U. diplomats want the new sanctions package to be enacted by May 9, when Russia celebrates its victory against the Nazis during the Second World War.

wd/msh (AFP, Reuters)