EU Oil Ban Increases Pressure on Russia, But Obstacles Remain: Analysts | Russian-Ukrainian War News

The European Union is proposing a comprehensive oil embargo against Russia for the first time, as Moscow continues its war against Ukraine.

The bloc expects Europe to stop importing Russian oil by the end of the year. However, questions remain.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced details of a planned sixth package of sanctions against Russia on May 4, which includes the bold oil move.

As soon as the proposal was announced, Hungary and Slovakia expressed strong reservations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says the move would devastate his country’s economy and suggested that Russian shipments via pipelines should be exempt from a ban that could apply only to deliveries by sea.

Both Hungary and Slovakia received between 75 and 100 percent of their oil imports from Russia last year.

Now the Commission wants all EU members to stop all imports of Russian crude oil within six months and only import refined products such as gasoline, diesel or kerosene into the European Union until the end of the year.

In addition, the EU seeks to ban shipping and insurance companies from dealing with Russian oil.

“This move is aimed at taking advantage of Russia’s high dependency on Western insurers and carriers and deter third countries from refilling,” Maria Shagina, a visiting senior fellow at the Center for US Power and Politics, told Al Jazeera. Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“The absence of a European energy embargo currently constitutes the main weakness of the Western sanctions regime.”

Most EU sanctions against Russia so far have stemmed from EU Council decisions and regulations, and are essentially amendments to measures imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea in 2014.

Since the start of the current war in February, the EU Council has continued to amend these decisions and their accompanying regulations, which are enforceable under EU law.

For von der Leyen’s desired “complete ban” on Russian oil to be enforced, all 27 member states must vote unanimously on a set of terms, further amend previous decisions, and allow the Commission to act as the key enforcer of regulations.

“This is a very powerful tool at the disposal of the EU, but it requires the unanimous consent of all member states. The ban would become part of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, its main foreign policy arm,” William T Daniel, assistant professor of comparative politics at the University of Nottingham, told Al Jazeera.

“Unlike other areas where the EU has full autonomy to act, foreign policy is still left in the hands of the collective agreement of the member states. If the EU cannot find a way to get all 27 members to agree to a unified set of terms, then it cannot fully act in this area,” added Daniel.

In addition to Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Croatia is also considering an exemption. Bulgaria also has reservations.

“More than 90 percent of Slovakia’s oil imports come from Russia, mainly through the Druzhba pipeline. Slovakia is also a landlocked country and importing oil through the sea would be a very cumbersome process that would cost much more than importing Russian oil through a pipeline,” Hari Seshasayee, global fellow at the Wilson Center, told Al Jazeera.

“Any EU-wide ban will lead to more disruptions to oil prices and also shortages across Europe, specifically in countries that rely on Russian oil for more than half of their total imports.”

Currently, this list includes eight countries: the Czech Republic; Bulgaria; Poland; Lithuania; Hungary; Finland; Latvia and Slovakia.

“European countries will end up paying a lot more to substitute Russian oil with alternative sources,” Seshasayee said.

This is one of the reasons why Europe’s de facto leader, Germany, has resisted an oil embargo for months.

However, after a recent meeting of EU energy ministers, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Berlin was prepared to ban imports, although the move would not pass Germany “without leaving a mark”.

“The policy changes of individual member states, particularly Germany, are massive and should not be underestimated. Still, all of this takes time to enact. And the longer the EU takes to reorient its policy towards an effective ban on Russian oil, the longer the Russian economy will benefit from selling oil to Europe,” Daniel said.

Oil remains Russia’s most important export and the EU is therefore under intense public pressure to end or at least drastically reduce its dependence.

Since the start of the Ukraine war, member states’ payments for Russian oil have totaled more than €20 billion ($21 billion), and with Russian amounts losing in an already tense oil market and amid a rising oil price, Moscow could end up generating more revenue, regardless of a ban.

“I think that Russia’s total oil production will likely drop by as much as three million barrels a day over the next few months, or maybe even more. However, this does not mean that their losses are equivalent to the reduction in supply,” said Seshasayee.

“Any kind of EU-wide ban will make Russia even more desperate to sell to any country that can still afford to buy Russian oil, particularly those in Asia, such as China and India,” he added.

The EU’s move has also raised the question of why Europe does not try to impose pressure through a gas ban.

The level of dependence on gas is even more significant, given that some 40 percent or more of European gas imports in 2021 came from Russia.

“In fact, some European countries started importing even more gas from Russia immediately after the war in Ukraine, in preparation for higher gas prices and possible restrictions on imports from Russia,” Seshasayee said.

Apart from the economic effects, can an oil ban prevent the killing of innocent civilians?

Much will depend on how quickly Europe can find the unity to enact the ban.

“The EU oil ban will be a significant step in sanctions pressure. Given the design of the ban, the impact will begin next year. In the short term, the main impact will come from self-sanction. In the medium and long term, there will be an energy decoupling between the EU and Russia,” Shagina said.

Nonetheless, there seemed to be a consensus among experts interviewed by Al Jazeera for this article that the EU oil ban is necessary to end Europe’s energy dependency on Russia, but also to damage Russia’s finances in a that makes a protracted war unattainable.

EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet on Monday, where the issue will once again take center stage.

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