EU weighs Russian oil ban over war crimes amid mounting pressure on Berlin – POLITICO

European Union officials are working on a sweeping plan to block all imports of Russian oil amid an international outcry over alleged atrocities committed by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.

The big question remains whether the countries led by Germany will agree to or delay a ban after opposing an embargo on Russian energy imports in recent weeks.

There are indications that Berlin may now at least be willing to consider giving up Russian oil – even if it is not yet in a position to give up gas imports – in response to what EU officials have described as a war crime in of Ukraine have designated.

Officials are now aiming to finalize the sanctions package ahead of a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, when it would be given the go-ahead, though a ban on oil or even coal may not be agreed in time.

The EU spends tens of billions of euros to import about a third of its oil from Russia, and a ban would directly hurt President Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund his war. At the same time, such a policy threatens short-term pain for EU economies, which, like Germany, depend heavily on Russia for their energy.

On Monday, four diplomats said EU countries are considering an embargo on oil imports after world leaders united in condemning the actions of Russian soldiers.

Over the weekend, shocking images of mass graves and dead bodies surfaced in the streets, along with reports of torture, rape and murder, as Russian troops withdrew from Bucha outside Kyiv.

The reports could mark a turning point in Europe’s response to the war. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Monday countries were “urgently working on further sanctions against Russia” and described the reported atrocities as “war crimes”.

public outrage

The imposition of an oil ban has already been discussed. Poland and the Baltic states have been demanding for weeks that the Kremlin’s war machine should no longer be financed through energy payments.

But now public outrage over atrocities in Ukraine has fueled a renewed sense that Brussels needs to go further than just tightening current sanctions.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki addressed Germany at a news conference on Monday, saying Berlin remains the main hurdle to imposing tougher sanctions on Russia. Hungary, too, he said, does not stand in the way of the move.

French President Emmanuel Macron – who holds the EU’s rotating presidency – on Monday called for more sanctions on Russian energy, particularly coal and oil, and said he would coordinate with Berlin.

The federal government said Chancellor Olaf Scholz will “coordinate” with Macron. Officials suggested that Berlin soften its opposition to an oil ban.

Gas plays a much larger role in heating and powering industrial plants than governments, especially in Germany. But a ban on oil imports would be far more painful for Russia, since Moscow earns significantly more from selling oil than it does from gas. “We are considering the separation of oil and gas,” said a diplomat.

Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner also indicated on Monday that a switch to oil was being considered: “At the moment it is not possible to throttle gas supplies, so we currently have to differentiate between oil, coal and gas.”

Still shared

Sanctions require the unanimous approval of all EU countries. Over the weekend, the European Commission organized small working groups to try to strike a compromise that strikes a balance between punishing Moscow and containing the worst economic pains for EU members that depend on Russian energy.

During these private discussions, according to diplomats, about three groups of countries have emerged when it comes to Russian energy. Some, like Poland and the Baltic states, believe it is morally inevitable that most energy imports will have to be halted sooner rather than later, whatever the economic cost.

In a written statement to POLITICO, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said: “Every single European coin paid for Russian gas and oil directly funds the war in Ukraine and the nation’s continued annihilation.”

Then there is a group of countries like Belgium that are not very dependent on oil and gas from Russia but are no longer demanding what they know will be difficult for their neighbors.

The third group includes Germany, which fears a deep recession if the energy supply to its companies and industries is cut too severely in the short term. The Hungarian government has taken a particularly tough stance on this issue, both publicly and according to diplomats behind closed doors.

Austria is also holding back. Austrian Finance Minister Magnus Brunner said on Monday that his country was “opposed to sanctions in the oil and gas sector”. You have to stay cool with sanctions, said Brunner. “If the sanctions hit you more than the others, I think… that’s not the way to go.”

Italy has also been more cautious about imposing further sanctions, but officials now say they would not stand in the way if the EU proposed energy sanctions.

Goes slowly

An agreement on measures to limit Russian energy imports as part of the sanctions package that EU ambassadors are to discuss on Wednesday is not yet ready.

Top officials are expected to approve a package that was already in the works and has now been accelerated, diplomats said. This package would focus, among other things, on listing family members of oligarchs to avoid sanctions circumvention, strengthen export controls and disrupt trade in goods used for military purposes.

“There is a tremendous amount of work being done now,” said an EU diplomat. “We hope that the package will be passed by Wednesday or Thursday.”

Another EU diplomat said it was important not to rush the energy debate given the weekend’s reports from Ukraine. “We have to keep a cool head,” said the diplomat, pointing to the meeting foreign minister next week as a possible deadline for an energy decision.

This would also give Germany and others more time to prepare for the economic fallout.

Michael Kruse, the energy policy spokesman for the FDP, one of Scholz’s two coalition partners, said it would be “a few weeks” before Germany prepared for a ban on Russian oil.

“We have to get out of Russian oil as soon as possible,” said Kruse. “In order for this to succeed, new sales channels must be established in East Germany, because Russian oil is mainly consumed there. This can be done within a few weeks.”

However, other diplomats have resisted a delay, saying it would be weak to come up with just a compliance package for existing sanctions after the atrocities reported over the weekend. A senior EU diplomat said he hoped the package would be “reinforced” before it was presented to EU ambassadors on Wednesday.

Paola Tamma, Bjarke Smith-Meyer, Camille Gijs and Hannah Roberts contributed coverage. EU weighs Russian oil ban over war crimes amid mounting pressure on Berlin - POLITICO

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