Zelensky says EU 'quarrels' on sanctions encourage Russia

Zelensky slams EU ‘bickering’ as the bloc agrees watered down ban on oil imports from Russia but will continue to pay Putin billions of euros for gas

  • Zelensky urged EU leaders to put aside ‘quarrels’ which he said encourage Putin 
  • He spoke during hours-long debate Monday on banning Russian oil imports 
  • Entreaty failed, as bloc was only able to agree a 70 per cent ban on Russian oil 
  • Comes just four weeks after Ursula von der Leyen spoke of a complete embargo 

Volodymyr Zelensky has slammed the EU for a lack of unity as the bloc failed to agree a promised ban on Russian oil imports.

The Ukrainian president urged leaders to put aside ‘all the quarrels inside Europe, all internal arguments, that are only encouraging Russia’ as they wrangled over ending the continent’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels Monday.

But his entreaty failed, as the 27-nation bloc only managed to agree a ban on 70 per cent of Russia’s oil in the face of opposition from Hungary.

And the EU will continue to pay Putin tens of billions of euros per year for gas – a key source of income for Russia – after it was exempted from sanctions earlier this year.

Volodymyr Zelensky urged EU leaders to put aside ‘quarrels’ which he said encourage Putin during debate on banning Russian oil imports Monday (file)

Zelensky’s entreaty failed to achieve desired result, as the EU was only able to agree 70 per cent ban on Russian oil – having promised a complete embargo

The partial oil embargo marks a significant climbdown for the EU since Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a complete ban four weeks ago.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s hardline leader who shares good ties with Moscow, had been bitterly opposed – saying cutting his country off from Russian oil would be like dropping a ‘nuclear bomb’ on its economy.

In the event, leaders agreed to a ban on Russian oil being brought in by sea – which Council President Charles Michel said on Monday would mean cutting off 70 per cent of supplies.

Taken together with unilateral action from Germany and Poland to shut off pipeline oil, it will mean an effective ban of 90 per cent by the end of the year, he added.

The ban will deprive Russia’s economy of hundreds of billions of dollars in trade, along with billions more in coal exports which have already been banned.

It forms part of a sixth package of sanction on Russia which will be published later this week, including cutting off another of its banks from the Swift payment system, as well as restrictions on more state media and asset freezes for individuals. 

But an exemption will mean that Hungary continues to receive oil through its branch of the Druzhba pipeline – which also supplies Slovakia and the Czech Republic – in a trade thought to be worth tens of billions of dollars annually.

Von Der Leyen said the exemption will be ‘temporary’ while Hungary seeks ways to replace Russian oil supplies, but did not give a firm end date. 

The EU will also continue to buy Russian natural gas upon which economies such as Germany are heavily dependent.

EU leaders had been pressured to act on Russian fossil fuel imports under heavy pressure from Zelensky, who accused them of financing Putin’s war on his country.

Speaking to leaders on Monday via a 10-minute video message, he said sanctions must ‘be agreed on, it needs to be effective, including (on) oil,’ so that Moscow ‘feels the price for what it is doing against Ukraine’ and the rest of Europe. 

Only then, Zelenskyy said, will Russia be forced to ‘start seeking peace.’

The EU has now banned most Russian coal and oil imports, but remains heavily dependent on gas and has no plans to ban it in the near future 

Russia is currently engaged in a bitter battle for Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, which it aims to ‘liberate’ after four months of bloody fighting.

After an initial stalemate, Putin’s generals are now making steady progress while Kyiv’s troops are taking a hammering – leading to calls for more and better weapons to aid in the fight.

On Monday, videos showed Russian troops pushing into the centre of Severodonetsk – one of the last remaining Ukrainian strongholds in Luhansk province.

Russia mounted an all-out assault on the city after attempts to surround it from the west and east failed, with attacks seeming to yield results.

It was not clear as-of Tuesday morning how much of the city remained in Ukrainian hands, amid reports it could soon fall entirely to Russia.

Putin’s forces would then need to cross the Donets River and capture Lysychansk – sister city to Severdonetsk – in order to claim complete control over Luhansk.

Attention would then turn to capturing the remainder of Donetsk, including the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, which would allow Putin to claim the whole of Donbas had been ‘liberated’.

The victory would be a significant propaganda win for the Russian leader, but a major blow to his original aims of taking Kyiv and overthrowing the government.

But Ukraine is not entirely on the backfoot. After a counter-attack north out of Kharkiv pushed Russia back to its own border, more attacks seemed to be underway towards the southern city of Kherson on Monday.

Videos showed armoured vehicles and troops moving across the Inhulets River towards Bilohirka and Davydiv Brid, though the exact size and significance of the offensive remains unclear.

The capture of Kherson – a strategic city which straddles the Dnipro River – was one of Putin’s earliest successes during the war, and has seen significant Ukrainian resistance to Russian rule since.

If Ukrainian forces can threaten Russian defences there, then it may pull forces away from the fighting in the east to protect it. 

Ursula von der Leyen had spoken of a complete ban on Russian oil just four weeks ago, but was forced into a climbdown due to opposition from Hungary 

Separate to the new sanctions package, Russia’s Gazprom said Monday that it will halt gas supplies to the Netherlands, after it refused to pay in rubles.

Moscow has been demanding that all payments are made in local currency to help shore it up in the face of Western sanctions, something many nations have refused to do – saying it is a breach of contract. 

Meanwhile, Danish energy company Orsted warned that Russia could cut gas supplies to Denmark for the same reason, but allayed concerns by saying that gas could still be secured through the European market.

Moscow has asked clients from ‘unfriendly countries’ – including EU member states – to pay for gas in rubles, a way to sidestep Western financial sanctions against its central bank over Vladimir Putin’s February 24 offensive.

The news came amid skyrocketing gas prices across Europe, and sparked fears that the Kremlin’s continued restriction of supplies could continue this trend.

Energy prices in Europe hit record highs this year after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Europe’s top gas supplier, with European leaders so far ruling out a price cap. 

Dutch GasTerra had ‘decided not to comply with Gazprom’s unilateral payment requirements’ as they would breach EU sanctions and create ‘financial and operational risks’, the Dutch firm said in a statement Monday.

‘In response to this decision by GasTerra, Gazprom has announced that it will discontinue supply with effect from May 31, 2022,’ it said.

The Russian energy giant’s move means that two billion cubic metres of gas will not be supplied to the Netherlands between now and October, GasTerra said, adding that it ‘has anticipated this by purchasing gas elsewhere.

‘GasTerra has repeatedly urged Gazprom to respect the contractually agreed payment structure and delivery obligations, unfortunately to no avail,’ it said.

The Dutch state directly owns a 10-percent stake in GasTerra plus another 40 percent through state-owned gas firm EBN. The rest is owned by energy giants Shell and Esso.

The Dutch government said it ‘understands’ GasTerra’s decision. 

‘This decision has no consequences for the physical supply of gas to Dutch households,’ Climate and Energy Minister Rob Jetten said on Twitter.

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