BRUSSELS (Reuters) – After struggling to agree to an oil embargo against Moscow, the EU was reluctant on Tuesday to consider sanctions on the Russian gas it is even more dependent on, with some leaders calling for a “pause”.
The sixth sanctions package “is a big step forward. And I think we should take a break now,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on his arrival for the second day of the EU summit of heads of state and government in Brussels.
The leaders of the Twenty-Seven reached a deal on Monday night that should allow them to reduce their Russian oil imports by around 90% by the end of the year in order to dry up funding for the Moscow-led war in Ukraine.
“We are going to put this package into practice first (…) Gas is much more complicated. It is therefore an important step. Let’s stop here and see what the impact is,” De Croo argued.
In terms of sanctions, “the big piece of energy is in place and working”, estimated the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, now presenting other priorities. “Now that we have established the structure of the energy element, it is important, in my opinion, that we target the economic and financial sectors” of Russia.
The oil embargo required a month of negotiation to resolve difficulties imposed on Hungary and Slovakia, two landlocked states dependent on their Russian imports.
“Two months ago, nobody thought that sanctions on Russian oil would be possible (…) so this 6th package is historic”, welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron. Regarding the measures aimed at gas, “we shouldn’t exclude anything because nobody knows how things are going to evolve,” he added.
“We will have to talk about a seventh sanctions package because the situation is not improving in Ukraine. But of course gas is much more difficult than oil,” stressed Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. “Gas should be part of the seventh package, but I’m also realistic, I don’t think it will be there,” she said.
Focus on renewable energy
“The gas embargo will not be in the next set of sanctions,” added Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.
In 2021, Russia supplied 30% of the crude oil and 15% of the petroleum products purchased by the EU. It supplies 150 billion m3 of gas annually, or 40% of EU imports.
The EU, which has already decided to dispense with Russian coal from August, has found other suppliers in the United States for a third of its Russian gas purchases.
Brussels also recently unveiled a 210 billion euro plan that provides for an acceleration of renewables and energy savings to get rid “as soon as possible” of gas bought in Moscow.
“Nobody wants to buy energy from Russia. Russia, a barbaric country, a country you cannot count on in any way,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday.
“That’s why we are discussing how to quickly move away not only from Russian hydrocarbons such as coal or oil, but also, in the long term, from gas,” he explained.
For Europe, it is also about protecting itself against a possible interruption of supply.
Russian gas giant Gazprom has already decided to cut deliveries to five countries: Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark, countries that refused Gazprom’s payment terms.
The European Commission rejects the payment of gas in rubles, as demanded by the Kremlin, considering it to be a violation of sanctions. Energy companies are obliged to respect the payment terms of contracts concluded with Gazprom (97% provide for payment in dollars or euros), under the control of the Member States.