EU proposes further sanctions against Russia

The EU Commission plans to further tighten its sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine: Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented a sixth package on Wednesday, which also includes an oil embargo. Transitional periods are intended to make it easier for skeptical member states to agree to the measures. European commentators pose questions about the potential consequences.

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La Stampa (IT) /

Embargo with exceptions

The interests of individual EU states will weaken the impact of the measures, La Stampa explains:

“First and foremost Hungary, which is not satisfied with the transition year it's been granted... Followed by Slovakia, which considers the one-year transition period insufficient and is demanding at least three years. Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have complained about unequal treatment, and also want a derogation. Greece, on the other hand, objects to the measure, which in a month's time will prevent European ships from transporting crude oil that Russia wants to sell outside EU territory. The same objections were raised by Cyprus and Malta, two countries that are very active in this area. Corrective measures are therefore to be expected, probably including further exceptions.”

Népszava (HU) /

No way out for now

Hungary can hardly afford an embargo now, says Népszava:

“Orbán and his government want to prevent the embargo on the grounds that Hungary cannot end its dependency [on Russian energy sources] from one day to the next. ... That is - perhaps - true. But who bears the responsibility for this? Who neglected to make the investments that would have made the switch possible in the past decades? ... But Brussels and Washington are also guilty. Apart from demanding that Hungary cancel its Russian gas and oil orders they haven't pointed to a clear and viable solution, for example by providing or organising cheaper supplies themselves.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

No pain, no gain

The sanctions are also putting the EU members under pressure, but they must not give in, the Kleine Zeitung admonishes:

“The consequences of the pandemic are far from over, and now the Europeans are feeling the economic impact of the war and also confronting issues like arms deliveries and neutrality. ... It would be a cardinal mistake to try to 'buy off' drifting countries like Hungary by making compromises in areas that are beyond the scope of negotiations - for example, the rule of law. If that dam breaks, the flooding will be prodigious.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Now it's up to us

Volkskrant columnist reminds readers of the start of the Second World War and sees the onus on Western Europeans to act now:

“It is our desperate attempt to do our duty to prevent atrocities. With even more severe measures, an oil boycott, which will also affect us. ... Now it comes down to this. Now we will see how much we are prepared to give up. Now we will see how much comfort Western European voters are willing to sacrifice and how long it will be before some influential politician on the good side of the Iron Curtain calls out that he no longer wants to suffer from someone else's war.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Fossil fuel companies delighted

The EU embargo also poses a challenge for climate protection, the Süddeutsche Zeitung points out:

“Renouncing Russian oil could cause prices here, especially petrol prices, to rise further. ... Expensive raw materials make the search for even the most hidden sources worthwhile. Fossil fuel companies all over the world, until recently pilloried for climate change, are rubbing their hands in glee: suddenly their wells are in demand again. This will set back global climate protection by years, if not decades. Because these wells will still be gushing when the war and the embargo are long over.”

Le Temps (CH) /

A blessing for China

China, which is already capitalising on the EU's coal embargo, stands to benefit most from the new embargo, Le Temps points out:

“It only took a few days for Beijing to announce the scrapping of import duties on coal, in a bid to pull the rug out from under the Europeans' feet. The Achilles heel of the West is all the more visible because Beijing takes advantage of every faux pas. It is China's stated goal to become the world's number one power by 2049. Within 15 years, Beijing has become the world market leader in renewable energies, rare earths, e-cars and electricity storage. Now, with cheap acquisitions Xi Jinping is securing exclusive access to the world's largest energy reserves and creating the conditions that will offer way out of the country's current stagflation.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The wrong solution

The EU is taking the wrong path with its plan to ban Russian oil imports, Corriere della Sera stresses:

“Europe and the US have not succeeded in their efforts to pressure Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela to boost their production. If Europe now puts a stop to Putin's black gold, it will drive up costs for everyone. ... As for Putin, he would simply sell part of the crude oil that Europe stops purchasing to others at higher prices. Most likely he wouldn't suffer any financial losses. ... True, there is no perfect solution in this dirty economic war. But that doesn't mean we should choose the wrong one.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Make sanctions watertight

The EU, the US and Germany overestimate their clout in the struggle to find the right response to the war in Ukraine, writes Der Tagesspiegel:

“Does the point when Moscow runs out of money depend solely on the West boycotting Russian energy? By suppliying a greater or lesser number of weapons, does Olaf Scholz have it in his hands to decide whether Putin escalates the war? Are there any means at all to stop the killing that will work quickly and effectively? ... Europe and America must weigh things up carefully, make their sanctions globally watertight and exert diplomatic influence on India and China to ensure that they do not undermine a boycott. Otherwise an oil embargo will hurt the West more than Putin.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Economic pressure should help

The NZZ calculates:

“Since the start of the war on 24 February, 27 billion euros have flowed to Moscow from EU states for natural gas deliveries, and another 20 billion for oil deliveries, according to research institute Crea. The EU is therefore pulling the right lever. With an oil embargo it can make it more difficult for Russia to finance the war and increase the economic costs - which could in turn up the pressure for a ceasefire.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Oil goes hand in hand with gas

Lidové noviny is concerned about the extent to which the end of EU oil imports would also affect the more complicated gas trade with Russia:

“For the first time [since the war in Ukraine began] such a halt would affect an imported commodity with the aim of harming another state: Russia and the funding for the invasion of Ukraine. It's hard to say how this will turn out. There is no shortage of speculation. ... Assuming that the EU really does impose an embargo on oil imports from Russia, it still won't be able to decouple itself from Russian gas supplies for a long time yet. But does anyone seriously believe that an embargo on Russian oil would have no effect on the flow of Russian gas in the pipeline?”

Polityka (PL) /

A logistic challenge

Reorienting gas and oil exports is no easy task for Russia, says Polityka:

“Europe knows that [Russia] can't turn off the tap for everyone, because what would it do with the gas? It's not so easy to stop production, and the entire gas pipeline network leads to the EU. It's the same with oil. Although unlike with the gas the Russians can load it onto ships and send it anywhere they want, they'll have problems finding buyers. This is clear from the discounts they are offering. ... Everything becomes a problem, even finding an oil tanker. The shipowners demand high freight charges because they fear that sanctions will be tightened during the voyage and the recipient won't accept the cargo or the dockers won't unload it.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Experiment with an uncertain outcome

Putin could actually benefit from an oil embargo in the long term, Handelsblatt fears:

“Rising prices on the global markets would be the result. If things go wrong, Putin might even increase his income if he finds other buyers quickly. The Europeans' hope that other states would refrain from buying cheap Russian oil out of solidarity is naïve. So an oil embargo would be an experiment with an uncertain outcome. The Europeans try to convey the impression that they have the power to act. But appearances are deceptive.”

NV (UA) /

Only a hard line can counter Putin's blackmail

The oil embargo is a response to Putin's demand for rouble payments for gas, investment banker Serhij Fursa writes in NV:

“His aim is to force Europe to take measures that violate the sanctions against the Russian central bank and thus disrupt European unity. ... Putin is gambling with the gas revenues for the next two years, as well as with Gazprom's assets around the world that remain with the group. Because if Putin stops the gas deliveries he will be in breach of contract, and court rulings to that effect will be inevitable. These are very high stakes. They also bring an oil embargo closer, as they make it increasingly urgent to renounce Russian energy. Putin is risking everything to have the sanctions lifted.”