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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen unveils plans for new sanctions on Russian oil, but says nothing about natural gas

The measures are the most politically sensitive yet, with officials fearing that a sudden increase in oil prices could lead to soaring prices at petrol pumps, triggering protests

FPJ Bureau | Updated on: Wednesday, May 04, 2022, 11:54 PM IST

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen | Twitter/@vonderleyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen | Twitter/@vonderleyen
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The 27-member European Union is looking at a total ban on Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

EU president Ursula von der Leyen, addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, proposed phasing out imports of crude oil from Russia within six months and refined products by the end of the year.

“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,” von der Leyen said.

The proposals must be unanimously approved to take effect and are likely to be the subject of fierce debate.

Von der Leyen conceded that getting all 27 member countries — some of them landlocked and highly dependent on Russia for energy supplies — to agree on oil sanctions “will not be easy.”

The EU gets about 25% of its oil from Russia, most of which goes toward gasoline and diesel for vehicles. Global analysts said a cut-off could send already high prices for truck and tractor fuel towering.

The EU has also started discussions on a possible natural gas embargo, but consensus among member countries on targeting the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes is more difficult to secure. The region gets about 40% of its natural gas from Russia.

Hungary and Slovakia have already said they wouldn't take part in any oil sanctions. Von der Leyen didn't elaborate on whether they would receive an exemption from the sanctions, although it appeared likely.

The EU and Russia are playing “a game of chicken. It is hard to say who will swerve/blink first. The Russians -- for fear of running out of money; or Europe -- for fear of the lights going out,” said James Nixey, the director of a think tank.

EU diplomats confirmed that the European Commission's plans also include an asset freeze and travel ban on the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Kirill is a longtime Putin ally and has justified Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In March, he described the conflict as part of a struggle against sin and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades” as the price of admission to their ranks.

Von der Leyen said that Putin's intention is “to wipe out Ukraine from the map,” but predicted he will fail in his deadly enterprise. “Ukraine has risen in bravery and in unity," she said. “And it is his own country – Russia -- that Putin is sinking.”

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Published on: Wednesday, May 04, 2022, 11:54 PM IST