Explained: Why an EU embargo on Russian gas might be a long way off

A view of hardware of the Jauniunai Gas Compressor station, near Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 5, 2022.
A view of hardware of the Jauniunai Gas Compressor station, near Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 5, 2022. Copyright AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis
Copyright AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis
By Alice Tidey
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Many EU leaders want to cut off Russian gas, but say they just can't see it happening.


The European Union has banned Russian coal, and after weeks of tortuous negotiations, oil as well, in a bid to deprive Moscow of an important source of revenue to wage its war in Ukraine.

Next up should theoretically be a gas embargo but this is proving even more controversial among leaders.

"No embargo can be imposed as far as gas is concerned," Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters after a two-day special summit of EU leaders concluded on Tuesday afternoon.

The summit's crowning achievement was the deal leaders struck to ban 90 per cent of Russian oil imports by the end of the year as part of a sixth round of sanctions.

The package was held up for four weeks after several landlocked member states, heavily reliant on Russian oil imports, had threatened to veto it unless they secured significant concessions. They did, and have been allowed to continue receiving Russian oil by pipeline for at least 18 months.

The leaders of Portugal and Belgium as well as the Hungarian government have also said they wouldn't support a gas embargo. But not everybody agreed with their stance.

"I also think we should sanction gas," Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said on Tuesday.

His Estonian counterpart, Kaja Kallas, agreed, but conceded it would be a lot harder: "I think gas has to be in the seventh package. But I'm realistic as well; I don't think it will be there."

For these two Baltic countries in particular, it was a bold position to take. Latvia receives 93 per cent of its imported natural gas from Russia, according to the European Union Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators. For Estonia, the share is 79 per cent.

Other countries that are perilously dependant on Russian gas include Finland (100 per cent), Bulgaria (79 per cent), Hungary (61 per cent), Austria (64 per cent), and Germany (49 per cent).

In fact, the decision might very well be taken out of EU leaders' hands, as Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen pointed out on Tuesday evening.

"Russia has disrupted (gas) supplies, by now, to five member states," she said. "You know [about] Finland, Bulgaria and Poland, but now to a company in the Netherlands, and to a company in Denmark."

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