Germany U-turns to support oil embargo

EURACTIV has also learned that several countries have requested to impose an oil embargo on the condition that the current contracts expire.  [Shutterstock/Avigator Fortuner]

Germany now favours an EU embargo on Russian oil, having previously opposed further energy sanctions against Russia, according to information obtained by several national media. Meanwhile, EURACTIV was informed that the EU is considering banning imports of oil transferred by tankers and allowing the ones through pipelines, at least for now.

In preliminary talks on a potential sixth EU sanctions package against Moscow, Berlin spoke out in favour of stopping oil imports from Russia, EU diplomats told German media dpa and ZDF.

However, the sources added that Germany envisages a transitional period of unknown length before a total embargo would come into force.

Over the weekend, EU ambassadors held extensive discussions with European Commission officials over the content of a possible sixth sanctions package.

“It’s highly likely we could have this package adopted this week,” an EU diplomat told EURACTIV, adding that Wednesday night or Thursday morning could be some possible dates.

Germany had previously opposed any additional energy sanctions due to its dependency on Russian fossil fuels.

However, after working to diversify suppliers and secure alternative energy sources, Energy Minister Robert Habeck announced last week that Germany was “very, very close” to becoming independent from Russian oil.

This progress, which was in part achieved due to support from Poland through what the two countries called “intensified cooperation in the field of oil,” is seen by most analysts as the reason for Berlin’s U-turn.

While Germany’s support should make a decision favouring halting oil exports more likely, several countries, including Hungary, Italy, Spain and Austria, still oppose the step.

To bypass the Hungarian veto, the EU mulls banning, for now, only oil imports by ships. “Hungary is a land-locked country, so such a measure would not affect them,” the diplomat said. 

EURACTIV has also learned that several countries have requested to impose an oil embargo on the condition that the current contracts expire. 

EU Commission officials have been informing EU ambassadors about the general outline of the proposed sanctions since last Friday. The Commission will then announce the proposed sanctions to EU member states and expects approval at short notice, even within the day.

However, EURACTIV was informed that several states had raised the issue of short notice, considering that the EU is now touching the “core of sanctions”, and more technical details should be sorted out. Some states, therefore, are likely to ask for more time to examine the proposed sanctions.

According to our information, Russian bank Sberbank will also be targeted in the sixth package of sanctions. More oligarchs will be blacklisted, including the friends and relatives of those already sanctioned.

It is also highly likely that the military personnel responsible for the atrocities in Bucha will also be hit while some EU member states ask the same for Mariupol, however, for now, it is difficult to identify those involved.

Confusion over payments

Several sources also confirmed to EURACTIV that EU member states are fuming at the executive over its handling of the payment issue with Gazprom. 

“The issue escalated with the responsibility of the Commission,” another diplomat said, adding that EU capitals expect clear guidance at an EU energy ministers’ meeting today. 

The diplomat explained that the matter is more political than technical and that by giving so much emphasis on the matter, “we are doing Putin’s favour”. 

Asked about the cases of Russian gas being cut off for Poland and Bulgaria, sources said Warsaw was expecting that, considering that it was pushing for a total energy ban on Russia’s fossil fuels from the very beginning of the war. 

In the case of Sofia, a diplomat said Bulgaria followed the protocol and insisted on written answers from Moscow regarding the payment method. They got no response, they did not pay, and the gas was cut off. 

A source added that the discussion on sending heavy military equipment to Ukraine also did not help, nor did the new Bulgarian government trying to re-approach Washington. “Maybe Moscow wanted to set the Bulgarian case an example for the rest of EU states,” the source said.

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