European Union discusses embargo on Russian oil

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“Wars are won or lost on the battlefield”, declared Josep Borrell, head of European diplomacy, on his arrival at a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday 11 April. As Ukraine prepares to face a massive Russian offensive in the east of the country, the European Union wants to focus on arms deliveries to kyiv. But also continue to increase economic pressure on Russia, to force President Vladimir Putin to retreat. However, on this point, the discussions did not make it possible to reach a political consensus on new sanctions, in particular on the question of an embargo on Russian oil.

This track seems more advanced than that, even more sensitive, of a ban on gas imports from Russia, on which the Union remains 40% dependent for its supply. Doing without Russian oil, which represents 26% of their crude, would a priori be easier for Europeans. In particular because alternative suppliers and means of transporting barrels are more accessible than for gas, which arrives in the EU via complex gas pipeline infrastructures or LNG carriers. Conversely, Moscow exports two-thirds of its oil to the EU, which is therefore in a position of strength. “In 2021, the oil import bill [80 milliards d’euros] was four times greater than that of gas [20 milliards d’euros]. It is important to start with oil,” pointed out Mr. Borrell.

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Several Member States, including France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Romania, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, say they are ready to go in this direction. “I hope oil will be part of the next sanctions package,” said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Monday, who believes that the ” millions of euros ” spent by the EU to buy it “certainly contribute to financing this war”. French President Emmanuel Macron also said “favorable” to such penalties.

A “red line” for Orban

At first reluctant, Austria and Germany are beginning to show “more flexible” notes a diplomat. Still, the challenge promises to be considerable for countries heavily dependent on Russian oil, such as Bulgaria, Slovakia or Hungary. An oil or gas embargo constitutes “a red line”, had warned the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, freshly re-elected last week, showing his determination to block such a proposal.

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