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The United States has hailed a European Union decision to scale back Russian oil imports but said more needs to be done over time to lessen reliance on Russian energy.
“We applaud the steps by our European allies and partners to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and natural gas,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters a day after EU leaders announced an agreement to cut the flow of oil to the EU by more than two-thirds..
He said there was “broad support” among U.S. allies for “cutting off the strength of Russia’s war machine, and that is Russia’s energy market.”
Price called the EU’s latest ban on Russian oil imports “an important step” in the near-term, adding that there is also “a longer-term path that has less to do with the day to day and more to do with trends over time and the broader need to lessen our reliance on Russian energy.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell earlier vowed that the bloc’s move will force down the price Moscow can ask for its crude while also impacting the amount of crude Moscow will sell abroad.
The ban, agreed upon late on May 30, will not immediately affect pipeline oil imports, following opposition from landlocked Hungary.
“We are the most important client for Russia,” Borrell told reporters as he arrived for the second day of an EU summit in Brussels on May 31.
“The purpose is to make Russia have less financial resources to feed its war machine,” he added.
On the first day of the summit, leaders of the 27 EU member states agreed on a compromise deal that cuts more than two-thirds of the bloc’s imports of Russian oil.
The new arrangement, reached during a summit in Brussels, followed weeks of wrangling until it was agreed there would be “a temporary exemption for oil that comes through pipelines to the EU,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters on May 30.
However, Michel said the agreement cuts “a huge source of financing for [Russia’s] war machine.”
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The EU proposed the ban a month ago, but resistance, mainly from Budapest, which imports two-thirds of its oil from Russia through pipelines, delayed the latest round of sanctions.
Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which, like Hungary, are landlocked, also asked for more time due to their dependence on Russian oil. Bulgaria, already cut off from Russian gas by Gazprom, had likewise sought opt-outs.
“It’s a fair compromise…this was the best we could get,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters on May 31 as she arrived for Day 2 of the summit.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban repeated that a full embargo would have been an “atomic bomb” for the Hungarian economy.
“It would have been unbearable for us to operate the Hungarian economy with the more expensive (non-Russian) oil…this would have amounted to an atomic bomb but we have managed to avoid that,” Orban said in a video posted on Facebook.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that, despite the temporary pipeline-oil exemption, the ban would have a wider impact, since Germany and Poland have volunteered to wind down their own pipeline imports by the end of this year.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the new sanctions had one clear aim: “to prompt Russia to end this war and withdraw its troops and to agree with Ukraine on a sensible and fair peace.”
Ukraine estimated the ban could cost Russia tens of billions of dollars.
“The oil embargo will speed up the countdown to the collapse of the Russian economy and war machine,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the new measures, which are part of a sixth package of sanctions against Russia passed by the EU. But he criticized what he called an “unacceptable” delay in the agreement.
“When over 50 days have passed between the fifth and sixth sanction packages, the situation is not acceptable for us,” Zelenskiy said, speaking alongside Slovak President Zuzana Caputova in Kyiv.
Russia’s response came from Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and prime minister.
“They hate us all! The basis for these decisions is hatred for Russia, for Russians and for all its inhabitants,” Medvedev said on Telegram.
The leaders also agreed to cut off the largest Russian bank, Sberbank, from the SWIFT messaging system, ban three more Russian state-owned broadcasters, and impose sanctions against individuals responsible for war crimes, Michel said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier told EU leaders that their sixth package of sanctions must be agreed upon and must include oil, “so that Russia feels the price for what it is doing against Ukraine and the whole of Europe, and so that you finally become independent of Russia’s energy weapons.”
He urged the EU leaders to show strength as they work toward adopting the new sanctions, saying internal “quarrels” only benefit Moscow.
“Europe needs to show strength because Russia only sees strength as an argument,” Zelenskiy said on May 30 in a speech to an EU summit intended to reinforce the bloc’s support for Ukraine in its battle to defend itself against invading Russian forces.
In a video message to the EU leaders, Zelenskiy said it was time for the European Union not to be fragmented but “one whole,” calling for a new set of sanctions against Russia, including a ban on Russian oil.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg