European Union unity behind Ukraine tested by division over Russia’s oil ban

Brussels — European Union leaders meet on Monday in a new show of solidarity with Ukraine, but divisions over whether or not to target Russian oil in a new set of sanctions are exposing the limits of how far the bloc can go to help the war-torn country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will address the 27 heads of state or government by videoconference in the evening, has repeatedly demanded that the EU targets Russia’s lucrative energy sector and deprives Moscow of billions of dollars in delivery payments every day.

But Hungary leads a group of countries – along with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria – that are dependent on Russian oil and cannot afford such steps. Hungary gets more than 60% of its oil from Russia and 85% of its natural gas. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has insisted that an oil embargo should not be discussed at the summit.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on Russia five times over its actions in Ukraine. It targets more than 1,000 people, including President Vladimir Putin and top officials, as well as pro-Kremlin oligarchs, banks, the coal sector and more.


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A sixth package was announced on May 4, but the delay over oil is embarrassing the bloc. Ahead of the summit, officials suggested a solution could be found by targeting oil carried by ships and holding fire on the pipeline oil so valuable to Hungary.

“If we focus on the oil that arrives by sea, we will achieve at least two-thirds of the exports, maybe more,” said a senior EU official. He declined to be named, given the sensitive nature of the negotiations. Hungary and Slovakia depend on Russian oil they receive through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.

HUNGARY-RUSSIA-EU-SANCTION-OIL-REFINERY
A worker prepares to receive liquid petroleum refining additive from a tanker train at the Duna (Danube) refinery of the Hungarian MOL Company, near the town of Szazhalombatta, south of Budapest, May 5, 2022, while the Duna refinery carries Russian crude continues to receive through the Druzhba pipeline.

ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty


The problem with hitting oil transported by sea is that countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands that are most dependent on that form face a rise in oil prices, distorting competition as Hungary still has cheaper Russian oil. would purchase. Experts failed to agree on such a move over the weekend, but are continuing discussions ahead of the summit.

The two-day meeting in Brussels will also focus on continuing EU financial support to Ukraine – likely the approval of a €9 billion ($9.7 billion) tranche as well as military aid and war crime investigations.


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The issue of food security will be on the table Tuesday, with leaders ready to encourage their governments to accelerate work on “solidarity routes” to help Ukraine export grain and other products.

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