An energy embargo to stop financing Putin's war machine continues to divide the bloc, but the EU and its member states are actively seeking to reduce their dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
EU ministers have been discussing a potential sixth round of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, but an embargo on oil or gas to stop financing Putin's war machine continues to divide the bloc.
The European Union has paid €35 billion for Russian energy since the start of the war, the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell has said. In 2021, the EU imported roughly 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia.
There are plans for a total ban on Russian coal imports but only from August and their value is far inferior to those of oil and gas.
Ukraine's President Zelenskyy has urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Russian oil and to set a deadline for ending gas imports from the country.
Within the bloc Germany, Italy, Austria and Hungary in particular are very dependent on Russian gas.
Seventeen EU countries have responded to an offer from the European Commission to provide technical expertise in helping them phase out their reliance on Russian fossil fuels.
Austria has ruled out sanctions on imports of oil and gas from Russia.
"If the sanctions hit yourself more than the other one, I think that is not the right way to go," Finance Minister Magnus Brunner said on 4 April.
Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met Vladimir Putin in Moscow on April 11, said he expects more EU sanctions against Russia, but he defended his country’s opposition to cutting off gas deliveries.
“As long as people are dying, every sanction is still insufficient,” he said.
Austria is militarily neutral and not a member of NATO.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has called for sanctions against Russia to be more severe to have an effect on the Kremlin.
He has highlighted the need for energy transformation and to end dependency on Russian fossil fuels, but has stopped short of calling for an embargo.
“We are not at war with ourselves,” De Croo said at a summit in Brussels on 25 March. “Sanctions must always have a much bigger impact on the Russian side than on ours.”
Belgium's finance minister, Vincent Van Peteghem, said on 4 April his country is unopposed to targeted action against Russian oil and coal.
Bulgaria is particularly dependent on Russian gas, its deal with Gazprom providing almost all of its needs.
However, in March the government said it would not be holding talks on renewing the 10-year contract which expires at the end of this year, in line with EU strategy.
Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev said the country would be looking at alternative supplies. A new pipeline with Greece is due to become operational in 2022 and Bulgaria has struck a deal to receive more gas from Azerbaijan.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković reportedly told a recent EU summit that the country had almost completely eliminated its dependence on Russian gas by building a new terminal and looking to increase capacity at another.
He said that he would like to see a global outlook to keeping a lid on gas prices and had raised the matter with EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen.
Cyprus expressed reservations as the EU prepared plans to ban Russian ships from EU ports, citing potential damage to its shipping sector.
The island is not connected to the European energy grid and imports most oil from other EU countries. Its energy minister has described as a "gamechanger" new energy projects to deliver gas from the eastern Mediterranean.
The Czech Republic is one of the EU countries that would be hit the hardest by a full embargo on Russian energy, according to the French Council of Economic Analysis. It's thought a total ban could cause a hit to the economy worth one percent of its economic output.
The government has said it is making contingency plans for all scenarios, including one where supplies from Russia are cut off.
Denmark has been at the forefront of European countries calling for a huge green transformation to end the continent's dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The EU "Fit for 55" package urges faster emissions cuts and rollout of renewables on top of increased energy savings.
The country is also looking for alternative sources of gas. Work has resumed in Denmark on the Baltic Pipe project, a pipeline from Norway to Poland. After a nine-month suspension amid concerns over the impact on wildlife, a permit was granted the week after Russia's invasion of Ukraine for construction to be continued.
The planned 900-kilometre link is mainly intended to help Poland reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas.
The Estonian government has publically agreed to cut all gas and oil ties with Russia by the end of the year - "in principle." This would put it in step with Baltic neighbours Lithuania and Latvia, who claim they have stopped all Russian energy imports since the start of April.
In March, the Estonian government proposed to use the revenues for Russian gas and oil to help rebuild Ukraine, following the model of the UN's 1995 Oil for Food (OIP) programme which was established in 1995. This allowed Iraq to sell oil only in exchange for humanitarian supplies, such as food and medicine.
In April, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin expressed her wish to “get rid of Russian fossil fuels,” saying the continuation of energy imports from Russia was "supporting and actually financing" the war.
Despite this, activists have noted how certain loopholes and provisions in Finnish policy still allow for Russian energy imports, such as a four-month grace period for coal imports.
Greenpeace Suomi (Finland) pointed out that a “transit loophole” has allowed for Russian energy products to enter Finland from Siberia.
“People are being killed”, said Matti Liimatainen from the organisation. “And we are funding it.”
Relative to other major European economies, France is not heavily dependent on Russian gas and oil. Compared to Germany and Italy, which import 40 to 50 per cent of their gas from Russia, France’s share of Russian gas is only 25 per cent, with the country’s top provider being Norway (35 per cent).
France's government has shown a willingness to ban Russian oil imports, with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire telling CNN France “stand[s] ready to go further and decide a ban on oil.”
He added he was “deeply convinced that the next steps and the next discussions will focus on this question of the ban on Russian oil."
France is currently in the midst of a very tight Presidential election between the incumbent Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen has proposed closer NATO-Russia ties in the past, and would likely usher in a change of policy and tone towards Russia were she elected.
The two will go head to head in a final election round on 24 April.
Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has been one of the most reticent to consider a total embargo on Russian energy. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned a sudden cut-off would plunge "all of Europe into a recession".
However, Germany's economy minister says the country has already slashed its dependence on Russian energy since the invasion of Ukraine.
Russian oil imports have come down from 35% to 25%, and gas imports from 55% to 40%, Robert Habeck said.
The Greek prime minister said on April 12 that efforts were being made to speed up gas exploration to cut reliance on Russian energy.
The country gets about 40% of its energy needs from Russia.
Hungary is very dependent on Russian energy and its nationalist prime minister opposes sanctions — although he has approved the ban on coal. Viktor Orbán has vowed to veto any attempt to impose an energy embargo because, in his view, it would "kill" his country.
Ireland is free from direct Russian energy dependency. It does not import any natural gas from the country, as it has its own gas field off the coast of County Mayo. The rest — around 70 per cent — is imported from neighbouring Britain.
Thanks in part to this freedom, the Irish government has taken a firm stand against Russia, voicing its support for EU-wide sanctions. Speaking in Brussels, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney claimed Ireland had a "maximalist" approach to sanctions against Moscow.
Ireland has vocally advocated cutting off all energy imports from Russia.
Italy, another big EU economy, increased its reliance on Russian gas over the years as it transitioned away from coal. Italian officials say Russia supplies 38% of the natural gas used for electricity and for heavy industry, including steel and paper mills.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who has been travelling to energy-producing nations seeking alternatives, told the ANSA news agency that “Italy could not veto sanctions regarding Russian gas."
But Premier Mario Draghi, who has said that gas payments are funding Russia’s war, did not address energy in a public response to the circulation of images of bodies on Ukrainian streets.
On 11 April, Italy signed a deal with Algeria to reduce its reliance on Russian fossil fuels. Algeria is currently Italy’s second-largest supplier of gas, sending 21 billion cubic metres of gas to the country. This is compared to the 30 billion cubic metres it receives from Russia.
Together with the other Baltic states, Latvia declared it is no longer dependent on Russian gas and oil imports. The country's government has advocated energy-related sanctions on Russia.
On 25 March, Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Karins said other EU countries should consider such measures as a way to stop the war in Ukraine.
“Energy sanctions are a way to stop money flowing into Putin’s war coffers,” he told Brussels.
On April 2, Lithuania said it had stopped energy imports from Russia entirely, making it the first country in the EU to sever energy links with Moscow.
Lithuania was “the first EU country among Gazprom's supply countries to gain independence from Russian gas,” said Energy minister Dainius Kreivys, adding this was due to “a multi-year coherent energy policy and timely infrastructure decisions.”
The move was also backed by Lithuanian President, Gitanas Nauseda.
Luxembourg is currently divided over whether to further target imports of Russian gas and oil.
Still, the Grand Duchy considers itself prepared for a possible EU-wide ban of coal imports from Russia.
On local radio, Energy Minister Claude Turmes said “for us in Luxembourg [this] is no problem because we barely [need] any." Turmes also tweeted on 22 March that “exceptional circumstances […] need exceptional decisions — I urge IEA ministers to discuss Dr Birol’s plans on both oil and gas."
In an official statement provided to Euronews by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs on 14 April, Luxembourg's government said “dependence [on Russian fossil fuels] must be reduced” and that no sanctions should be “ruled out”.
But it also added that no individual action would be taken at present. “[The] unity of all the Member States and the determination to approach the issue of sanctions together have been a key factor of our policy,” the statement concluded.
Malta does not depend on Russian gas and oil imports for its energy.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli said that “as a country, when it comes to Liquified Natural Gas, we’re not dependent on Russia”.
She noted how the Mediterranean country had no energy contracts with Russia. 17 per cent of Maltese energy comes from the European power grid, which is brought from the Italian island of Sicily.
Approximately 15 per cent of gas coming into the Netherlands is from Russia.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte claimed the Netherlands could not cut off all fossil fuel supplies from Russia, saying they “need the supply” and this was the “uncomfortable truth.”
Although the lower house of parliament has called for stricter sanctions on Russian energy imports, Financiele Dagblad, a Dutch financial newspaper, argued this would have a devastating impact on the country's economy. This is due to its small size and reliance on European production chains, which require more transport and so energy costs.
In an official statement provided to Euronews on 13 April, the government said it would “present a plan before the end of April to phase out Russian gas, oil and coal." It pointed to the measures already taken by the country to reduce the country’s reliance on Russian energy, such as organising an energy-saving campaign.
But it added: "The security of energy supply for the entire EU” must be taken into account and “measures must be taken at European level to be effective.”
The statement stopped short of revealing the government had an immediate plan to entirely sanction Russian energy imports.
Poland has aligned itself closely to the Baltic states by agreeing to cut all of its Russian energy imports — although, in this case, by the end of the year.
The eastern European country, which has taken in 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees (the highest in the EU) received approximately 40% of its gas supply from Russia in 2020.
Still, in a decision he described as “the most radical” in Europe, the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claimed Poland would phase out coal imports in the next few months and ban oil and gas by December.
The Portuguese government has said it is willing to support sanctions against Russian gas and oil imports.
Compared to other EU countries, Portugal does not rely heavily on Russian oil and gas. It gets a significantly higher share of its energy from renewable sources, especially solar.
On 11 April, Portuguese Foreign Minister João Gomes Cravinho said the country would support the “intensification” of Russian sanctions.
“Portugal is aligned with this movement, which has technical dimensions that are still under discussion, but Portugal will support it,” he added.
The Portuguese government has called for a European-wide decision to sanction Russian fossil fuel imports since the early days of the war.
Romania and three other central-eastern European countries — Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland — have agreed a strategic partnership to further develop their hydrogen grids and reduce the need for Russian energy imports.
Earlier this month, Romania’s largest energy company, OMV Petrom, stopped importing crude oil from Russia, believing that an EU-wide ban on Russian energy was coming.
Romania currently has one of the EU’s lowest percentage shares of gas supply from Russia, at 10%.
Slovakia is very reliant on Russian fossil fuel imports as an energy source. The country takes around 85 per cent of its gas and 66 per cent of its oil from Russia, meaning cutting ties could have a significant impact on the central European state.
In April, the Slovak government said it was joining the EU in refusing to pay for Russian gas in roubles, after the country's economy minister said the opposite.
Plans to reduce energy consumption through more efficient heating methods have been offered as alternatives to Russian fossil fuels by analysts in Slovakia.
Slovenia is significantly dependent on Russian gas and oil imports. It recently expressed an interest in obtaining gas from an LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal in Croatia.
Last month, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša stood with other EU countries in resisting Moscow’s demand that energy imports should be paid for in roubles to shore up its economy.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, Europe has looked for alternatives to Russian fossil fuels, such as shipping LGN from the US across the Atlantic Ocean. Spain has positioned itself as a possible new “hub” for importing LGN to Europe.
But a recent intervention by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in favour of Morocco in its dispute with Algeria over the Western Sahara has put Spain at odds with Algeria, one of its main suppliers of gas. This tension could potentially result in higher gas prices in Spain, and lessen the country's appetite for sanctioning Russian gas.
The Spanish government has called on the EU to reduce its reliance on Russian gas. Spain, a solar power hub, is less dependent on Russia.
Sweden is more immune from the impact of energy sanctions on Moscow, as the country does not rely heavily on Russian energy imports.
As reported in March by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Swedish government said the country's "supply is to a low degree directly dependent on Russian energy supplies, and reports show that energy supplies from Russia are functioning normally."
Sweden, along with Finland, is mulling over NATO membership in light of the recent geopolitical tensions. This marks a shift away from its long-standing policy of neutrality.