European Union countries are struggling to agree on the details of a new sanctions package against Russia, including how a ban on Vladimir Putin’s oil industry will work, diplomats have said at POLITICO.
Talks between the 27-nation bloc broke down without a deal on Sunday, and officials in Brussels are now expected to draft a new compromise plan before calling another meeting of diplomats on Monday or Tuesday.
The envoys met several times to discuss the EU’s sixth sanctions package against Russia but failed to approve the proposals, first announced publicly by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on 4 may.
The current difficulties reflect the fact that the measures being prepared – essentially a complete ban on imports of Russian crude and refined fuels – will be deeply painful for some countries to absorb. Closing the European market for Russian fossil fuels is seen as a key strategy to starve Putin of revenue that helps fund his war in Ukraine.
As of April 27, the bloc had imported about 44 billion euros worth of fossil fuels from Russia through shipments and pipelines since the start of the invasion, according to the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research.
Hungary and Slovakia – both heavily dependent on Russian oil – led objections to von der Leyen’s plan last week and, along with the Czech Republic, won concessions from the Commission so they have more time to comply with the ban.
It was again on Sunday the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán which blocked an agreement, diplomats said. On Friday, he warned that Russia’s oil phase-out plan would devastate Hungary’s economy, likening the impact to a “nuclear bomb”.
“There is no compromise between member states,” said a European diplomat. “Hungary still opposes [the package]and that’s the problem.”
After failing to strike a deal on Friday, EU ambassadors met again on Sunday for another round of talks, but the talks were over by early afternoon. EU diplomats initially expected to reach an agreement by Friday or over the weekend at the latest.
The European Commission proposes to phase out Russian crude oil within six months and refined oil by the end of the year. The most recent plans, released on Sunday and seen by POLITICO, envisage giving Hungary and Slovakia until the end of 2024, and the Czech Republic until the end of June of the same year, before the oil embargo comes into effect.
But an EU diplomat said the compromise did not go far enough for Hungary, saying Budapest was pushing to be completely exempted from the oil ban. Orbán had previously indicated that his country needed a minimum of five years, pointing out that Hungary was landlocked and therefore more dependent on Russian oil than other countries that could receive the resource through their ports.
“It’s impossible,” said the diplomat. “They want something like a total denial. But that’s crazy.”
Bulgaria is also unhappy with the text, a senior EU diplomat told POLITICO, also calling for a longer suppression period.
Diplomats expect the next meeting of ambassadors to the EU to take place on Monday or Tuesday, with the Russian president due to outline his new intentions on Monday.
They also played down disagreements, saying only a few details remained to be negotiated and that a deal on Tuesday would be realistic. The Hungarian Embassy could not be reached for comment.
The planned oil embargo is not the only point of contention between EU countries. Other disagreements relate, for example, to the advisability of prohibiting EU vessels from transporting Russian oil. This part of the package has been put on hold pending some form of coordination at the G7 level. The aim is to ensure that the measures are indeed targeted against Russia and are watertight so that countries like China or Turkey do not benefit from a change in EU rules.
The difficulties will only get worse as the EU tightens its sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially when attention turns to the Russian gas supply being cut off.
“We have to be optimistic,” one of the diplomats said on Sunday. “I hope maybe tomorrow or Tuesday the package will be adopted. Everyone needs some fresh air on this sunny Sunday and then they can come back tomorrow.”
Barbara Moens, Suzanne Lynch and David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.