EU makes eleventh-hour push to agree on Russia oil sanctions

The EU leaders will declare continued support for Ukraine and discuss how to deal with the impact of the conflict, especially the spike in energy prices and an impending food supply crisis.

 Models of oil barrels and a pump jack are seen in front of displayed EU and Russia flag colours in this illustration taken March 8, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Models of oil barrels and a pump jack are seen in front of displayed EU and Russia flag colours in this illustration taken March 8, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Top European Union diplomats met on Monday for a last-ditch attempt to agree on Russian oil import sanctions before their leaders meet later in the day, seeking to avoid a display of disunity over the bloc's response to the war in Ukraine.

According to a new draft of the summit conclusions, the 27 leaders should agree that their next round of sanctions will cover oil with a temporary exemption for crude delivered by pipeline, a compromise that ambassadors had failed to agree on Sunday.

The text seen by Reuters, which might yet be revised again, would confirm an agreement on seaborne oil sanctions, with pipeline oil supplied to landlocked Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to be sanctioned at some point.

No finalized terms

However, the leaders gathering in Brussels in the afternoon would not finalize the terms for that temporary exception, the text suggested.

 German Economy and Climate Change Minister Robert Habeck gestures during a news conference on measures to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions and Germany's dependance on Russian energy imports amid the Russian war on Ukraine, in Berlin, April 6, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/CHRISTIAN MANG) German Economy and Climate Change Minister Robert Habeck gestures during a news conference on measures to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions and Germany's dependance on Russian energy imports amid the Russian war on Ukraine, in Berlin, April 6, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/CHRISTIAN MANG)

Instead, they will ask diplomats and ministers to find a solution that would also ensure fair competition between those still getting Russian oil and those cut off.

One EU diplomat said it represented "limited progress," with too many details still to be determined for a full agreement at the two-day summit, where leaders will have few concrete results if the impasse over an oil embargo holds up a wider package of sanctions on the table.

And in another sign of how EU leaders are struggling to agree on more sanctions, a planned ban on Russians acquiring property in the EU was dropped after Cyprus objected to it, one EU diplomat said.

The EU leaders will declare continued support for Ukraine to help it fend off Russia's assault and they will discuss how to deal with the impact of the conflict, especially the spike in energy prices and an impending food supply crisis.

'Unity crumbling'

However, the talks will be overshadowed by their month-long struggle to agree on a sixth round of sanctions against Moscow, notably held up by Hungary.

"After Russia's attack on Ukraine, we saw what can happen when Europe stands united with a view to the summit tomorrow, let's hope it continues like this. But it is already starting to crumble and crumble again."

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck

Other elements of the latest package of sanctions include cutting Russia's biggest bank, Sberbank SBMX.MM, from the SWIFT messaging system, banning Russian broadcasters from the EU and adding more people to a list whose assets are frozen.

The most tangible outcome of the summit will be an agreement on a package of EU loans worth 9 billion euro ($9.7 billion), with a small grants component to cover part of the interest, for Ukraine to keep its government going and pay wages for about two months.

A decision on how to raise the money will be made later.

According to a draft of the summit conclusions seen by Reuters, leaders will also back the creation of an international fund to rebuild Ukraine after the war, with details to be decided later, and will touch on the legally fraught question of confiscating frozen Russian assets for that purpose.

The leaders will pledge to accelerate work to help Ukraine move its grain out of the country to global buyers via rail and truck as the Russian navy is blocking the usual sea routes and to take steps to faster become independent of Russian energy.

The draft showed leaders would explore ways to curb rising energy prices, including the feasibility of introducing temporary price caps, to cut red tape on rolling out renewable sources of energy and invest in connecting national energy networks across borders to better help each other. ($1 = 0.9296 euros)