Europe Reluctantly Readies Russian Oil Embargo

BRUSSELS – European officials are preparing plans for an embargo on Russian oil products, the most controversial measure to date to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and a move long resisted due to the high cost to Germany and the potential to disrupt politics. disrupt the region and raise energy prices.

After banning Russian coal for the first time earlier this month — with a four-month transition period to settle pending orders — the European Union is now likely to adopt a similarly phased ban on Russian oil, EU officials and diplomats said. The approach is intended to give Germany in particular time to arrange alternative suppliers.

The proposed embargo will be submitted for negotiation at the earliest after the latest round of French elections, on April 24, to ensure that the impact on prices at the pump does not fuel populist candidate Marine Le Pen and hurt President Emmanuel up Macron’s chances of reelection, officials said.

The timeline is as important as the details of the ban, and is an indication of the decisiveness needed to convince all 27 EU countries to agree to take a previously unthinkable step as Russia launches a renewed offensive in Eastern Ukraine prepares.

But officials and diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the press, said there was a growing sense that the measure would be taken even if there was no so-called trigger — another important one. news event such as the atrocities in Bucha. But such an event could help move the decision forward.

“The commission and EU members have shrewdly backed off defining red lines that would trigger a sanctions response since Russia attacked Ukraine,” said Emre Peker, a director of the consultancy Eurasia Group.

“I expect the EU to shy away from defining triggers,” he added, “as Russia’s ongoing escalation in eastern Ukraine and revelations from Bucha and elsewhere continue to drive a hardening European stance. major catastrophe unfolding will only give additional impetus to the EU’s response.”

The European Union, which has imposed five rounds of increasingly tough financial sanctions on Russia since the invasion began on Feb. 24, is under immense pressure from allies to stop filling the Kremlin’s coffers with oil purchases. So far, they have kept gas imports from Russia off the table, as they remain too critical of major European economies, especially Germany’s.

But a handful of its members are also ill-prepared to deal with the economic impact of shutting the tap on Russia’s oil imports. Russia is the largest oil supplier to the European Union and will provide the bloc with a quarter of its imports of oil and petroleum products by 2020.

Germany, the de facto leader of the bloc heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas, has been a key country resisting a swift, universal and simultaneous EU-wide oil embargo, and much of the work revolves around the details of the measure aims to ensure that Berlin comes on board.

Germany gets 34 percent of its oil from Russia. A major challenge will not only be to find alternative suppliers to make up for that, but also to arrange adequate land transportation for oil to its two refineries fed by pipelines from Russia, most notably a refinery in the eastern city of Schwedt, at the Polish border.

This week, the German ambassador to the United States addressed her country’s thinking about energy sanctions in a lengthy thread on Twitter.

“Running cold turkey on fossil fuels from Russia would cause massive, immediate disruption. Modern industrial installations cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. The knock-on effects would be felt outside of Germany, the EU’s economic engine and the world’s fourth largest economy,” said Ambassador Emily Haber.

Hungary, another EU country heavily dependent on Russian oil, has demanded that any future sanctions be set by EU leaders rather than senior diplomats or ministers, raising the prospect of an emergency summit to debate the issue .

For now, the drafting of the new measures is being done by a small number of experts from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, led by President Ursula von der Leyen’s chief of staff, Björn Seibert.

But in addition to the French elections, the timetable is also delayed by the Catholic Easter on April 16 and the Orthodox Easter on April 24, which is celebrated as a public holiday in Europe, meaning the measures would be called into question at the end of April or early. early May.

A summit of European Union leaders on Ukraine is already scheduled for the end of May, but officials said it was possible that events on the ground in Ukraine, particularly after the launch of Russia’s offensive in the east, could make an earlier meeting to require an oil embargo.

But with all these caveats, what once seemed an impossible step for Europe was now likely, officials said.

Following the practice of drafting EU sanctions, the Commission is not putting down details of its proposals for an oil ban – for fear it will leak or force public expressions of disagreement between EU countries and thus its attempt to United front project will break .

Instead, small groups of diplomats will meet with Commission officials in the coming days, during the Easter holidays, to discuss the measures, officials said.

Officials and diplomats say there is a growing consensus that to maintain unity among the 27 states, a phased approach is needed.

The most likely approach is a scheme that differentiates between types of oil products and methods of delivery, building consensus on the feasibility of a faster embargo on oil carried by tankers as opposed to oil coming to Europe via pipelines. That concession is intended to bring Germany on board.

A transition period of at least a month will be part of the oil ban currently under discussion, diplomats and officials said.

“While the direction of travel – towards oil sanctions and overall energy decoupling from Russia – is clear and broadly unchallenged, many EU capitals led by Berlin want to roll out the upcoming measures with as little disruption as possible,” said Mr Peker.

“That requires phasing out and waivers so that countries that rely heavily on Russian supplies can adapt. It will also be crucial to reach consensus among 27 member states,” he added.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has publicly stated that the country is moving away from Russian oil with a year-end horizon, a timeline likely to be accelerated more quickly.

“Companies are letting their contracts with Russian suppliers expire, not renewing them and switching suppliers at an insane pace,” Mr Habeck said in Berlin at the end of March.

SOURCE – www.nytimes.com

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