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Michel: EU needs to sanction Russian oil and gas ‘sooner or later’

STRASBOURG — European Council President Charles Michel said Wednesday that sanctions on Russian oil and gas will be needed “sooner or later,” as the EU continues to hedge on fully banning Russian energy purchases.

EU ambassadors are meeting Wednesday in Brussels to sign off on a fifth sanctions package, which proposes a ban on Russian coal but stops short of a prohibition on Russian oil and gas.

While Michel’s comments reflect several countries’ desire to target Russian oil and gas, the EU is likely to remain bogged down on the issue as long as Germany opposes a ban. German Finance Minister Christian Lindner on Monday indicated a move on oil was under consideration but said “at the moment it’s not possible to cut the gas supplies, so we have to differentiate with oil, coal and gas at the moment.” 

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday morning, Michel said that the EU was “toughening our sanctions to keep … maximum pressure on the Kremlin.”

And he left the door open to additional measures, saying that “we are ready to move quickly with further coordinated robust sanctions.” He then specified: “I think that measures on oil and even gas will also be needed sooner or later.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also told the Parliament that the EU needs to put “more pressure on Russia and arm Ukraine more.”

“We have to help them defend themselves,” he added. “We have given Ukraine €1 billion — it might seem a lot, but a billion euro is what we pay Putin every day for the energy he provides us.”

He said that Europe had given Russian President Vladimir Putin €35 billion in energy payments since the beginning of the war in February. Conversely, the EU has earmarked €500 million for weapons and other aid to Ukraine, and Borrell has proposed doubling that fund.

The call for further sanctions against Russia comes as the head of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, conservative German MEP Manfred Weber, called for Russian oil to be banned immediately and for gas imports to be stopped “as soon as possible.”

“We cannot continue financing the Putin system that is waging this horrible war,” Weber added.

Without mentioning China, Borrell added that many emerging economies were “sitting on the fence” but were actually taking the side of Russia in its war on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on Beijing to take a clear stance on the invasion. “Nobody can be neutral when faced with such naked aggression against civilians,” she added.

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