By SAMUEL PETREQUIN – Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday there was “total determination” by the 27 European Union countries for sanctions against Russia that could target oil and coal. on evidence that his troops deliberately killed Ukrainian civilians.
Europe’s dependence on Russian oil, gas and coal means finding unanimity on energy measures is a tall order, but reports of killings outside kyiv have increased pressure for tougher EU sanctions.
So far, Europe has been unwilling to target Russian energy for fear of plunging the European economy into recession. In some ways it would be easier for Europe to do without Russian oil than gas because most supplies arrive by tank truck and can be purchased from other suppliers. But talk of a possible boycott of Russian oil has helped push global oil prices higher this week.
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Asked if there is political will to impose sanctions on Russian oil and coal – a move suggested this week by French President Emmanuel Macron – Le Maire said: “We will see what the position of other member states will be. , but I think there is a possibility of having the unity of the 27 Member States on these new sanctions.
He didn’t mention natural gas, and consensus on targeting the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes would be even harder to come by. The EU gets about 40% of its natural gas from Russia and many EU countries, including Germany – the bloc’s biggest economy – are opposed to stopping gas imports.
France holds the EU Council Presidency and Le Maire spoke ahead of a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg, where they will discuss possible new measures to punish the Kremlin.
While the EU has so far refrained from sanctioning Russian energy, some countries have announced efforts to reduce their dependence: Poland has said it plans to block imports of coal and oil of Russia, while Lithuania says it no longer uses Russian natural gas.
The European Union gets about 25% of its oil from Russia, while the EU imported 53% of the country’s hard coal in 2020, which accounted for 30% of EU hard coal consumption.
While coal and oil could be discussed, Teresa Ribera, Spain’s Ecological Transition Minister, said on Tuesday that it was “very difficult” for the EU to sanction Russian natural gas because some countries in the bloc depend on it for their energy supply. and that the strength of the EU lies in its unity.
“It is very difficult to explain to European public opinion and to Ukrainian society that we are still importing Russian energy which is financing this war,” she said, adding that energy imports create “ an obvious moral tension”.
European importers pay around $850 million a day for Russian oil and natural gas.
Russian natural gas comes mostly from fixed pipelines and would be more difficult to suddenly replace with expensive and scarce liquefied natural gas shipments. While oil might be easier to cut than gas, giving it up would not be without consequences.
On the one hand, the resulting price increases for other oils could encourage India and China, which do not participate in Western sanctions, to buy cheaper Russian crude. Russia is also a major supplier of diesel fuel; if this supply were lost, the use of diesel-powered trucks and agricultural equipment could quickly become more expensive, fueling already high inflation in Europe.
Oil prices rose as buyers sought to avoid the supply of Russian oil for a limited supply from other producers like Saudi Arabia, commodity analysts at German bank Commerzbank said.
The international benchmark Brent rose 3% on Monday and traded above $108 a barrel on Tuesday, up another 1%. U.S. crude rose 1.1% to $104.37 on Tuesday. Crude prices had fallen after US President Joe Biden announced last week the release of 180 million barrels of oil over six months from strategic reserves. Higher oil prices mean more expensive gasoline for American drivers.
The next EU sanctions package will be prepared by the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, which will then present it to EU countries for approval.
AP reporter Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal contributed to this story.
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