More than two months into Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, on Wednesday the European Union announced its intention to embargo Russian oil, its largest ever economic sacrifice to inflict pain on the Russian economy and to President Vladimir V. Putin.
The measure unveiled by the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, would ban imports of Russian crude oil to almost the entire European Union in the next six months and the refining of petroleum products by the end of the year. The embargo contained in the sixth round of EU sanctions is expected to get final approval from member countries within days.
The move is a pivotal moment in the bloc’s support of Ukraine, breaking a long-standing link with Russia and accepting a serious economic hardship for Europe, which many EU countries had resisted.
Their deal, like the growing arms supply to Ukraine, reflects the escalation of Western opposition to Putin’s invasion of its neighbor and a calculation that whatever the price to Europe, the cost to Russia will be greater.
“Let me be clear, it won’t be easy,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, where the announcement was met with applause. “Some member states are heavily dependent on Russian oil. But we just have to work on it. “
Europe is heavily dependent on Russian fossil fuels, the main source of income that has allowed Moscow to strengthen its army. The EU is leaving 27 percent of its crude oil imports from Russia and a larger share of its petroleum products, paying billions of dollars a month.
Diplomats who saw documents on the proposed sanctions, which were not made public, said that Hungary and Slovakia would have until December 2023 to ban Russian oil and that further concessions could be made before the embargo was finalized. These two countries, with an inordinate dependence on such imports, make up a small fraction of the EU’s oil imports from Russia.
The phased approach to the embargo reflects how difficult – and costly – European officials expect it will be to find alternatives to Russian oil imports.
Last month the European Union banned Russian coal, a fuel that was already being phased out. The ban on Russian natural gas, which most EU countries rely on for heating and electricity, was considered unrealistic in the foreseeable future, but the bloc plans to gradually wean it over the next few years.
Talks to finalize the embargo are expected to last until the end of the week and some details may change. Hungary, in addition to securing more time to cut Russian oil, has said it will seek even more exemptions, while other countries have contested limited elements of the proposals that would affect them.
The new sanctions plan would also ban EU-owned shipping companies from transporting Russian oil to destinations outside the blockade and would target brokerage and insurance companies, overwhelmingly based in the European Union and the UK. Brittany, helping to make this shipment possible.
These steps would deal a severe blow to Moscow’s oil exports that could resonate far beyond Europe. Much of Russian oil is transported by European-owned oil tankers, particularly Greek-owned. Industry research shows that in the weeks following the invasion of Ukraine, Greek oil tankers transported half or more of Russian oil exports to international destinations.
Oil prices rose sharply after Ms von der Leyen spoke on Wednesday morning, with Brent crude, the international benchmark, rising 3.7% to $ 108.88 a barrel.
EU officials said they were eager to formalize the embargo by 9 May, the day Russia commemorates the Soviet Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany. Western officials have speculated that Putin could use the anniversary to make a dramatic announcement in relation to his war in Ukraine.
The new EU sanctions package includes sanctions against Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, Ms von der Leyen said.
In a highly symbolic move, it would add Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to the list of sanctioned persons and entities, according to diplomats who have reviewed the measures but were not allowed to speak publicly.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
The patriarch demonstrated a divisional figure During the war for his unconditional support for the Kremlin, with critics saying he took his lead from Russian President Vladimir V. Putin rather than worked to end the fighting. Many victims of the war are members of his flock, although the Ukrainian Orthodox Church broke away from the jurisdiction of Moscowmillions of people in eastern Ukraine, where the fighting is concentrated, remain under the Russian Church.
Patriarch Kirill gave a gold icon to a senior Russian military commander as a blessing to the troops, and claimed that the Russian army was fighting the “Antichrist”, pushing some Orthodox parishes and other institutions out of the country. Russia, but under the Moscow umbrella to break away.
In addition to moving to tighten sanctions, the European Union also pledged further military support to Moldova, its neighbor increasingly under pressure from both the bloc and Ukraine, on Wednesday.
Moldova has a Russian-backed separatist region, Transnistria, a thin strip of land where 10,000 or more Russian soldiers are stationed, and Moldovan officials fear that Russia could drag their country into war. A Russian general recently claimed that Moscow would seize a land bridge along the Black Sea coast, which connected Transnistria to Russia.
Moldovan security fears increased last week as a series of mysterious explosions rocked Transnistria.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, with Russian, Ukrainian and Transnistrian authorities exchanging accusations, but the explosions exacerbated Moldova’s war nervousness.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, the body that brings together the leaders of the 27 EU countries, said the bloc would “significantly increase” its military support for Moldova.
Moldova, a former Soviet republic with a Romanian-speaking majority, is extremely vulnerable from a military point of view, with only 6,000 troops and a constitutional ban on joining any military alliance, including NATO. In an attempt to get out of Russia’s long shadow, the Moldovan government formally applied in March to join the European Union, but any prospect of membership is years away.
Transnistria is located just 25 miles from Odesa, Ukraine’s main port, which appears to be one of the main targets of Moscow’s military campaign. The Ukrainian military announced last week that it would move more troops to the border in response to mounting tensions in Transnistria and a Russian missile strike on a bridge connecting the area around Odesa to the rest of Ukraine.
Neil Mac Farquhar contributed to the reporting from Istanbul and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.