EU proposes phasing out Russian oil imports by year’s end

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BRUSSELS — The European Commission has proposed a plan to phase out Russian oil imports, stepping up efforts to cut off a key source of Kremlin funding.

The proposal, which still needs to be approved by member states, reflects protracted negotiations over how far the European Union should go to penalize and isolate Russia for its war in Ukraine. The phase-out is more gradual than the immediate embargo that some countries were calling for. It would ban oil imports after six months and refined petroleum products by the end of the year.

But a phase-out of oil would still represent a sea change for the EU, which told the United States in March that it could not join a Russian energy embargo.

The oil plan is the centerpiece of the EU’s sixth round of sanctions, a package that would also remove Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, and two others from the SWIFT payment system.

A draft plan was sent to the 27 EU member countries on Tuesday, to be discussed by ambassadors on Wednesday. It could be officially approved as soon as the end of the week, according to diplomats and officials.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has worked closely with the US and other allies to sanction Moscow, but has struggled to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels – a vulnerability of which US officials and others have warned for years.

In 2020, the bloc imported around 35% of its oil from Russia, along with 40% of its natural gas and nearly 20% of its coal, according to the EU statistics office.

In March, when President Biden announced a US ban on Russian oil and gas, the EU said it could only commit to cutting Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year.

Almost a month later, as graphic images of atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine began circulating, the EU moved to ban coal.

Bucha massacre tests Europe’s red lines on Russian energy

EU officials hinted action on oil would be next – but talks have been stalled by strong opposition from Germany, Austria and other countries.

Thanks to price hikes, Russia has continued to make roughly the same amount of money from fossil fuel sales as before the invasion, according to estimates from the Wednesday Group, a team of experts that tracks fossil fuel sales. energy. That’s about $1 billion a day, and maybe $1.5 billion a day, in revenue.

The oil deal finally gained momentum last week, after Germany – one of Russia’s biggest customers – said it had found other suppliers and would be there. comfortable with a gradual elimination.

This is where Russian oil flows

But getting to the point of a draft plan with a good chance of approval meant an in-depth debate over the exceptions for Hungary and Slovakia, which said they needed more time and money to upgrade their oil infrastructure, diplomats and officials said.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and is at an impasse with the EU

The EU froze Hungary’s pandemic recovery funds over concerns about democratic backsliding and rule of law violations and last week triggered a mechanism that could see the bloc withhold dozens billions of dollars in subsidies.

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