Can the EU ever ban Russian oil? EU infighting continues as Hungary blocks breakthrough

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The European Union’s reliance on Russian gas and oil has come under major scrutiny following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Three months after the conflict began, the bloc has finally agreed on how to whittle down its dependency on Russian energy – albeit in a limited way.

On Tuesday, the EU announced it will block most Russian oil imports by the end of 2022 in a belated effort to cut off funds for the Kremlin war operation.

The ban only affects oil arriving by sea, but does not ban oil arriving via pipeline.

According to the European Council president, Charles Michel, three-quarters of Russian oil imports will be immediately affected, rising to 90 percent by the end of the year.

Currently, around two thirds of EU oil from Russia arrives by sea.

Russia currently supplies 27 percent of the EU’s imported oil and 40 percent of its gas, and the EU pays Russia around €400 billion (£341 billion) a year in return.

But the attempt to fully block Russian oil was hampered by Hungary and some other Central Europe countries, which are heavily reliant on Russian oil imports.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who dialled into the summit, urged EU countries to stop their internal “quarrels,” stating that they only helped Moscow.

He said via video link: “All quarrels in Europe must end, internal disputes that only encourage Russia to put more and more pressure on you.”

Different members of the bloc have made their own decisions regarding how much oil will be blacklisted and when, with Germany and Poland pledging to also end pipeline imports.

The move has been welcomed by officials in Ukraine, who said it would hamper Russia’s ability to finance its war.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “We expect that by the end of 2022 Russia will lose up to 90 percent of its oil exports to Europe.

“This means that the Russian military machine will not receive tens of billions of dollars for the war against Ukraine.”

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Will the EU ever completely ban Russian oil?

The decision comes after a month of wrangling between EU members, and the desired outcome for several EU states was blocked by Hungary.

Hungary, which imports 65 percent of its oil from Russia through pipelines, became a main opponent in the discussion.

Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, also has good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The European Council has promised to “revisit” the issue as soon as possible, given that Hungary has refused to play ball with the bloc’s major members.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president who has been driving sanctions policy, promised the EU would discuss how to close the loophole that allows Hungary and a select few other EU states to continue receiving pipeline supplies “as soon as possible”.

But this could prove tricky. Among the nations that have issues giving up pipeline gas include landlocked countries such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

A senior EU official confirmed that the three landlocked countries have been gifted an additional guarantee that the event of an interruption to pipeline supply they could obtain supplies of seaborne Russian oil.

However, no timeline has been given for when countries will need to end reliance on pipeline gas from Russia.

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