BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders will gather on Monday for a fresh show of solidarity with Ukraine, but disagreements over whether to target Russian oil in a new set of sanctions are showing the limits of doing so how far the bloc can go to help Ukraine war torn country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will address the 27 leaders via video conference later in the evening, has repeatedly urged the EU to target Russia’s lucrative energy sector and siphon billions of dollars in supply payments from Moscow every day.
but Hungary leads a group of countries – along with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria – who depend on Russian oil and cannot afford such moves. Hungary gets more than 60% of its oil from Russia and 85% of its natural gas. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has insisted that an oil embargo should not be discussed at the summit.
The EU has already imposed five rounds of sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine. The bloc has targeted more than 1,000 people, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and top government officials, as well as pro-Kremlin oligarchs, banks, the coal sector and more.
A sixth package was announced on May 4, but the oil backlog is embarrassing the bloc. Ahead of the summit, officials suggested a solution could be found by targeting oil carried by ships and setting fire to the pipeline oil so valuable to Hungary.
“If we target oil arriving by sea, we will hit at least two-thirds of exports, maybe more,” said a senior EU official on condition of anonymity over the delicate nature of the negotiations. Hungary and Slovakia depend on Russian oil, which they get via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.
The problem with transporting oil by sea is that countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, which rely most heavily on this form, would suffer a surge in oil prices, which would distort competition because Hungarians are still buying cheaper Russian oil would. Experts failed to agree on such a move over the weekend but continued talks ahead of the summit.
The two-day summit in Brussels will also focus on continued EU financial support for Ukraine – likely approval of a €9 billion ($9.7 billion) aid tranche – as well as military aid and war crimes investigations.
The issue of food security will come to the table on Tuesday, with leaders set to encourage their governments to speed up work on “solidarity lanes”. to help Ukraine export grain and other products.
A small group of protesters gathered in front of EU buildings ahead of the summit, some holding signs reading “No to Russian oil and gas”.
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