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EU divided over hitting Russia with oil sanctions

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By Sabine Siebold and Ingrid Melander

BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuters) – The European Union should deepen sanctions on Russia to occupy its lucrative energy sector, the foreign ministers of Lithuania and Ireland said on Monday, at the start of a diplomatic flurry over how to punish Russia. Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.

The European Union (EU) and its allies have already imposed a range of measures against Russia, including freezing the assets of its central bank.

Russia’s siege and shelling of the port of Mariupol, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called a “massive war crime”, is increasing pressure for action.

But attacking Russian oil, as the United States and the United Kingdom have done, is an option that divides the 27 members of the EU, which depends on Russia for 40% of its gas. Some argued on Monday that the EU can no longer avoid such a move.

Diplomats warned, however, that energy is the most complex sector to sanction because each EU country has its own red lines. “Sanctions are exponential,” said one diplomat. “The further you go, the more difficult it is to adopt them.”

Illustrating the complexity, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU was still dependent on Russian oil and gas and could not cut itself off tomorrow.

Coal sanctions are a red line for countries like Germany, Poland and Denmark, diplomats said. For others, like the Netherlands, oil is untouchable.

Diplomats have also said that a Russian chemical weapons attack in Ukraine or a heavy bombardment of the capital, kyiv, could trigger an energy embargo.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Robin Emmott, Ingrid Melander, Bart Meijer, John Irish; Writing by Robin Emmott and Ingrid Melander; Editing in Spanish by José Muñoz)

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