25th Mar 2023

Pressure mounts on EU to ban energy imports from Russia

  • Europe is paying around €600m for gas and €350m for oil, according to estimates from the Brussels think tank Bruegel (Photo: European Parliament)
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With a new package of sanctions high on this week's Brussels agenda, pressure is mounting on the EU to halt imports of Russian energy — especially after allegations at the weekend of war crimes committed in Bucha, Ukraine.

But some EU countries fear that such a move could hurt member states which are heavily reliant on Moscow's fossil fuel supplies.

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EU ambassadors are expected to discuss a new round of sanctions on Wednesday (6 April), which could also include restrictions on energy exports.

"Nothing is off the table," said EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni when asked about a potential oil embargo on Monday (4 April), ahead of the Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers.

However, it is still unclear whether member states will be able to find consensus over boycotting imports of Russian crude broadly because of the different economic and political consequences they'd face.

A growing number of EU countries, led by Poland and the Baltics, want to end the trade flow of oil, coal and gas with Russia to stop financing Russian president Vladimir Putin's war machine.

But others including Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Hungary have shown reluctance to halt the import of Russian gas — citing concerns over potential supply disruptions and shortages.

"At the moment it's not possible to cut the gas supplies," German finance minister Christian Lindner said on Monday, pointing out that Berlin needs "some time" to reduce its dependence on Russian imports.

Likewise, Austria is against imposing any sanctions targeting Russian oil and gas imports.

"I think all sanctions that hit us more than the Russians wouldn't be good for us," Austria's financial minister Magnus Brunner told reporters on Monday.

Russian gas imports accounted for about 40 percent of EU gas demand in 2021, but there are deep differences among member states.

Austria and Germany are highly dependent on Russian energy imports.

But the images and reports of Russian atrocities in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, have prompted calls for tougher sanctions on Russia's energy sector.

French president Emmanuel Macron called earlier on Monday for a new round of sanctions, expressing support for banning petrol and coal imports.

"I think that on oil and coal we must be able to move forward," he told France Inter radio when discussing the need to advance the EU's sanctions regime which requires unanimity among EU member states.

In an attempt to lead by example and increase the pressure on EU member states, Lithuania decided on Saturday to halt natural gas imports from Russia — becoming the first country in the EU to decisively reject Moscow's demands for gas payments in roubles.

Nevertheless, Poland had also announced in end-March a ban on all imports of Russian gas, oil and coal by the end of the year.

Each day, Europe is paying around €600m for gas and €350m for oil, according to Simone Tagliapietra of Brussels think tank Bruegel.

"After Bucha, the EU has no choice but to impose immediate sanctions on Russian oil and gas," he wrote on Twitter.

Wolfgang Ischinger, former diplomat who served as head of the Munich Security Conference, also called to end gas and oil imports.

"It is high time now for us all to appreciate that the logic of war and terror applies here, and no longer the logic of economic rationality," he said.

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