In a major attempt to punish Moscow, the EU bans most oil imports from Russia

In a major effort to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to ban the vast majority of Russian oil imports after intense talks that revealed cracks in the united bloc.

BRUSSELS (AP) – In a major effort to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to ban the vast majority of Russian oil imports after intense talks that revealed cracks in the united bloc.

Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, the West has sought to strike at Moscow’s lucrative energy sector to stop funding its war. But any such move is a double-edged sword, especially in Europe, which relies on 25% of its oil and 40% of natural gas. European countries, which are even more dependent on Russia, were especially reluctant to act.

An incredible move just a few months ago, EU leaders agreed late Monday to cut about 90% of all Russian oil imports over the next six months.

The Prime Minister of Belgium Alexander De Crewe called the embargo “a big step forward”, and the Prime Minister of Ireland Michael Martin called it a “turning point”. But both leaders have warned that Europe will need time to adjust to the impact – and any further bans on Russian energy will come slowly.

In response to the EU’s decision, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Twitter: “Russia will find other importers.”

Russia also does not shy away from giving up energy supplies, despite the economic damage it may suffer as a result. Russian energy giant Gazprom on Tuesday announced cuts in natural gas supplies to Dutch trader GasTerra and is considering shutting down Denmark. The taps to Bulgaria, Poland and Finland have already been closed.

GasTerra said the move was announced after it waived “Gazprom’s requirements for unilateral payments.” This is a reference to the demand of Russian President Vladimir Putin that European countries pay for gas in rubles – many refused this agreement. GasTerra said the houses would not be affected as they bought gas elsewhere pending a shutdown.

Talks at EU headquarters in Brussels were scheduled for Tuesday to focus on ways to end the trade bloc’s dependence on Russian energy by diversifying supplies and speeding up the transition to renewables and, as far as possible, taking into account rising fossil fuel prices.

Leaders are also expected to discuss how to help Ukraine export millions of tons of trapped grain inside the country as the global food crisis escalates.

EU leaders plan to call on Russia to end attacks on Ukraine’s transport infrastructure and lift the blockade of Black Sea ports so that food can be delivered. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia prevented the export of 22 million tons of grain, most of which was intended for residents of the Middle East and Africa. He accused Moscow of “deliberately creating this problem.”

In other events:

– According to the mayor, Russian forces have captured about half of the key city in eastern Ukraine. Analysts have described the battle for Severodonetsk as part of a race against time for the Kremlin: the city is key to Russia’s efforts to quickly complete the seizure of the eastern industrial region of Donbass before more Western weapons arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defenses.

– On Tuesday, a Ukrainian court convicted two Russian servicemen of war crimes for shelling civilian buildings. He sentenced both to 11 and a half years in prison, completing the country’s second trial since the Russian invasion.

The EU’s oil embargo, included in a new package of sanctions that will also target Russia’s largest banks and state media accused of spreading propaganda, applies to crude oil and petroleum products, but has an exception for oil delivered by pipeline.

This exception was demanded by the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán, who made it clear that he could support the new sanctions only if the security of oil supplies in his country is guaranteed. Hungary receives more than 60% of its oil from Russia, most of it through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.

The EU estimates that about 90% of Russian oil will be banned by the end of the year. That figure includes a ban on the supply of all Russian oil by sea – which accounts for two-thirds of EU imports – plus a decision by Germany and Poland to stop using oil from the northern branch of the Druzhba pipeline.

The sanctions package has yet to be finalized in the coming days – and leaders said the exemption for oil supplied through the pipeline would be reviewed “as soon as possible”, although they did not specify when.

The compromise is compounded by growing difficulties in reaching consensus among EU leaders on important national interests – and the ways in which Hungary has become a thorn in the side of the bloc.

But despite the struggle, the sanctions package – the sixth aimed at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – was agreed in about a month, rather quickly for 27 countries with very different national interests.

The agreement on the next round of measures is likely to be much tougher – especially since the next question is whether to target natural gas, which is much harder to cut off. This is because it makes up a larger percentage of Europe’s energy balance.

The compromise came after Zelensky again called on leaders to target Russian oil.

Only if Moscow “feels the price for what it is doing against Ukraine” will it be forced to “start looking for peace,” he said in a video message.

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Mike Corder of The Hague, the Netherlands, contributed to this report.

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Follow the coverage of the AP war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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