EU leaders downplay chances of Russian gas ban

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European Council president Charles Michel leaves after a press conference at the end of an EU summit on Ukraine, defense and energy, in Brussels on May 31, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

BRUSSELS — EU leaders on Tuesday played down the prospects of getting a ban on Russian gas in a next round of sanctions, after struggling to secure an already watered-down embargo on Moscow’s key oil exports.اضافة اعلان

The 27-nation bloc agreed at a summit on Monday to a sixth package of sanctions that will see the majority of Russian oil stopped, but exempted supplies by pipeline in a concession to hold-out Hungary. 

The weeks of wrangling over oil rocked European unity in the face of the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, and cutting off major economies like Germany from Russian gas is a far tougher ask.

“I think that the gas has to be in the seventh package but I’m a realist as well, I don’t think it will be there,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said, on the second day of a Brussels summit.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer warned “it was much easier to compensate for oil”.

“With gas it is quite different. Therefore, the gas embargo will not be an issue in the next package of sanctions either,” he argued.

Belgian premier Alexander De Croo said the bloc “should pause it for now” before moving on to consider a new round of sanctions.

“For gas, it is also way more complicated. So, this is an important step. Let’s stop there for the moment, let’s see what the impact is,” he said.

‘Nothing ruled out’

The head of the EU’s executive, Ursula von der Leyen, suggested Brussels had gone far enough for now on hitting Russian fossil fuels and that it was time to focus more on the “financial and the economic sector”.

“The big bulk on energy — this is up and running,” von der Leyen said.

But French President Emmanuel Macron said “nothing should be ruled out”.

“No one knows how things will evolve and how the war will evolve,” he said.

As the EU stalls over a gas ban, Russia’s state giant Gazprom has already begun cutting off European countries that have refused to pay for their gas in rubles.

On Monday, the Netherlands became the latest EU nation to have the taps turned off after Finland, Bulgaria, and Poland saw their supplies severed.

Other EU member states have given in to the Kremlin’s demands to pay in rubles to secure a flow of deliveries which they insist is vital to their economies.

But the refusal to cut off the vast sums heading daily to fill the Kremlin’s coffers has fuelled criticism that the bloc is helping to fund Moscow’s war machine. 

Instead of sanctions, EU leaders on Tuesday discussed a mammoth investment package put forward by Brussels that should help wean Europe off Russian gas well before the end of the decade.

“Nobody wants to buy energy from Russia, a barbaric country, a country that cannot be relied upon in any way, (that) has turned out to be not only an untrustworthy partner, but also a criminal state,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

“We are discussing how to quickly move away not only from Russian hydrocarbons such as coal or oil, but also, in the longer term, as highlighted by some member states, especially Germany and Austria, in the longer term, also from gas.”

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