Ministers from the European Union met on Monday to respond to Russia’s cut in gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, as well as to discuss plans for a possible oil embargo to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine.
The 27 member states’ energy ministers were coordinating efforts to counter what Brussels has dubbed the Kremlin’s attempt to “blackmail” the West with threatened energy shortages.
The EU is also working on a phased ban on Russian oil imports, in the hopes of cutting off funding for its war effort and asserting its energy independence from Moscow.
“We will back full sanctions against all Russian fossil fuels. We’ve already got coal; now it’s time for oil “Poland’s environment minister, Anna Moskwa, stated as much. Poland, on the other hand, is one of the more hawkish members. Others, such as Germany, are concerned about the economic consequences of a broader ban on Russian energy.
As a result, no decision on an oil embargo was expected on Monday. Diplomats and European Commission experts are still working on a proposal for a sixth set of sanctions.
Instead, the ministers deliberated on technical means of weaning their economies off Russian energy supplies.
They also considered how to assist countries that have enraged the Kremlin, such as Bulgaria and Poland, whose gas supplies were halted last week.
The emergency meeting was called by France’s environmental transition minister, Barbara Pompili, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, to “ensure our solidarity with our colleagues from Bulgaria and Poland.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has demanded that “unfriendly countries,” including all EU member states, pay for their gas in rubles, which Warsaw and Sofia have refused.
Western clients would deposit euros or dollars in a bank run by Russia’s state energy giant Gazprom, which would then be converted into rubles and transferred to a second Gazprombank account.
According to the European Commission, this could violate EU sanctions against Russia. However, Germany and Austria have been wary of rejecting the Kremlin’s payment terms.
“We urge countries not to support Putin’s decree or the initiative to pay in rubles,” Moskwa said.
Germany’s economic affairs and climate minister, Robert Habeck, stated that Berlin would follow EU policy even if it meant incurring economic costs. He did, however, suggest that the dual Gazprombank accounts plan could be a “face-saving solution for Putin.”
“We will continue to pay in euros the contracts that were stipulated in euros, or in dollars the contracts that were stipulated in dollars,” France’s Pompili said.
Kadri Simson, the European Commissioner for Energy, said Russia’s decision to cut off the two EU members demonstrated that Moscow was not a “reliable supplier.”
She denied Russian media reports that some EU countries had agreed to pay in rubles.
Sources told reporters on Sunday that the EU will propose, possibly as early as this week, a phased-out ban on Russian oil imports – but not gas – as part of a new round of sanctions against Russia. According to several diplomats, the oil ban was made possible by Germany’s reluctant U-turn.
According to the sources, the commission will propose a phased ban over six to eight months to allow countries time to diversify their supply.
The ban requires unanimous approval and could be derailed if Hungary, which is dependent on Russian oil and close to the Kremlin, mounts a strong opposition.
Other countries are concerned that a ban on oil would raise gasoline prices at a time when consumer prices are already rising sharply as a result of the war.
“We have to pay close attention to market reactions,” one official said on the condition of anonymity. “There are solutions and we will get there in the end, but we must act with great care.”
The sixth package of anti-Russian measures will also target the country’s largest bank, Sberbank, which will be excluded from the international SWIFT messaging system, the diplomats said.