European leaders on Tuesday downplayed prospects of securing a ban on Russian gas in an upcoming round of sanctions, after battling to secure a watered-down embargo on key oil exports from Moscow.
The 27-nation bloc agreed at a summit on Monday to a sixth set of sanctions that will see the majority of Russian oil halted, but exempt pipeline supplies in a concession to recalcitrant Hungary.
Weeks of wrangling over oil have rocked European unity in the face of the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, and cutting off major economies like Germany from Russian gas is a much tougher demand.
“I think gas should be in the seventh package but I’m also realistic, I don’t think it will be,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on the second day of the summit in Brussels.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer warned that “it was much easier to offset oil”.
“With gas, it’s quite different. Therefore, the gas embargo will not be an issue in the next sanctions package either,” he explained.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the bloc “should suspend it for now” before moving on to consider a new round of sanctions.
“For gas it’s also a lot more complicated. So that’s an important step. Let’s stop there for now, see what the impact is,” he said.
While the European Union is blocking the gas ban, Russian giant Gazprom has already started cutting off European countries that have refused to pay for their gas in roubles.
On Monday, the Netherlands became the latest EU country to shut off the taps after Finland, Bulgaria and Poland saw their supplies cut off.
Other EU member states have caved in to Kremlin demands to pay in rubles to secure a flow of deliveries they say is vital to their economies.
But the refusal to cut the huge sums flowing daily into the Kremlin’s coffers has fueled criticism that the bloc is helping fund Moscow’s war machine.
Instead of sanctions, EU leaders on Tuesday discussed a mammoth investment plan proposed by Brussels that should help Europe wean off Russian gas well before the end of the decade.
“No one wants to buy energy from Russia, a barbaric country, a country that cannot be relied on in any way, has turned out to be not only an untrustworthy partner, but also a criminal state,” he said. said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
“We are discussing how to quickly move away not only from Russian hydrocarbons such as coal or oil, but also, in the longer term, as pointed out by some Member States, in particular Germany and Austria, in the longer term term, also gas”.
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