Europe's week: Russian oil ban dominates the agenda in Brussels

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By Euronews
The facilities of the oil refinery on the industrial site of PCK-Raffinerie GmbH are illuminated in the evening in Schwedt, Germany, Wednesday, May 4, 2022
The facilities of the oil refinery on the industrial site of PCK-Raffinerie GmbH are illuminated in the evening in Schwedt, Germany, Wednesday, May 4, 2022   -   Copyright  Patrick Pleul/(c) Copyright 2022, dpa ( Alle Rechte vorbehalten

As the war in Ukraine drags on, the European Union announced proposals for a sixth round of sanctions against Russia this week.

The package contains some of its toughest measures yet, including a total ban on oil imports, more sanctions on banks and on war crime suspects.

But it's the oil embargo that the EU has been focusing on for weeks that represents the biggest sacrifice for the bloc to inflict pain on Russia and its economy.

"Today we are addressing our dependency on Russian oil. And let's be clear, it will not be easy because some member states are strongly dependent on Russian oil. But we simply have to do it," Ursula von der Leyen, EU Commission President told MEPs on Wednesday.

The Czech and Slovak governments have voiced resistance, however, as they want a transition period. Hungary also said during the week that it is opposed.

"In this form, this Brussels sanctions package cannot be responsibly supported, we cannot responsibly vote for it," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said. "Hungary can only agree with these sanctions measures if crude oil deliveries via pipelines would be exempted from the restrictions."

And Hungary's criticism did not stop there. Within this package of sanctions are new individuals linked to Russia's war in Ukraine.

One such person, is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, one of Vladimir Putin's most fervent supporters.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has called the move to sanction him "an attack on religious freedom".

He also likened Brussels' proposal for a gradual EU-wide ban on Russian oil imports to an economic "atomic bomb" for Hungary's economy.

The main point of contention is the timeline envisioned by the European Commission: a phase-out of all Russian crude in six months and all refined oil products by the end of the year.

Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are all highly dependent on Russian oil, which they get directly from the Druzhba pipeline, and are concerned the EU ban will imperil their energy supplies and wreak economic havoc.

The latest compromise indicates Hungary and Slovakia might have until the end of 2024 to complete the phase-out, two years later than what Brussels has suggested, diplomatic sources with knowledge of the situation told Euronews.

The Czech Republic could also benefit from a similarly protracted exemption, until June 2024, while waiting to be connected to the Transalpine Pipeline, which today links Italy, Austria and Germany.

"We are ready to support this decision under the condition that the Czech Republic will be able to delay its implementation until the capacity of oil pipelines leading into the Czech Republic is increased," the country's prime minister, Petr Fiala, said on Wednesday, speaking at a press conference.

The Commission had already prepared for a scenario where the EU-wide ban would have to accommodate national interests in order to gain the necessary unanimity for approval.

The embargo on Russian oil is considered the most radical and consequential step taken by the bloc in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The measure became almost inevitable after the Kremlin continued its costly military campaign propped by the billions spent by Europeans on fossil fuels.