In a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow for its intervention in Ukraine, the European Union’s executive has called on the 27-nation bloc to ban Russian oil imports, among other measures.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, also urged on Wednesday that three major Russian banks be severed from the SWIFT international financial payment system, as well as a ban on three state-owned channels.
Reflecting widespread anger in the West at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign launched on February 24 – which Moscow says is a “special military operation” to defeat dangerous nationalists – von der Leyen said Moscow must face consequences.
“Putin must pay a price, a high price, for his brutal aggression,” she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
She called on the EU’s member nations to phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.
“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimises the impact on global markets,” von der Leyen said.
Alex Schindler, the president of Energy Intelligence, said that the planned ban on Russian crude oil was much easier to impose than some other oil products, such as gasoline.
He added that the crude oil imports from Russia into the EU decreased 40 percent in April compared to 2021 whereas the import of oil products has increased.
“That is the reason why the European Union is saying that it is going to phase out the products by the end of the year, while crude oil will be much quicker,” he told Al Jazeera from London.
The proposals need to be unanimously approved to take effect and are likely to be the subject of fierce debate.
Von der Leyen conceded that getting all 27 member countries – some of them landlocked and highly dependent on Russia for energy supplies – to agree on oil sanctions “will not be easy”.
If approved, the ban on oil imports will be the second package of EU sanctions targeting Russia’s lucrative energy industry.
In addition to sanctions on various entities and individuals, including Putin himself and members of his family, the bloc also previously approved an embargo on coal imports.
The EU has started discussions on a possible natural gas embargo, but consensus on targeting the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes is more difficult to secure.
Hungary and Slovakia have already said they would not take part in any oil sanctions, but von der Leyen did not elaborate on whether they would receive an exemption from the sanctions.