By Ingrid Melander and Sabine Siebold
BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers disagreed on Monday on whether to impose sanctions on Russia’s lucrative energy sector over the invasion of Ukraine, with Germany saying the bloc was too reliant on the Russian oil to decide on an embargo.
The EU and its allies have already imposed strong 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.
To attack Russian energy exports, as the United States and Great Britain have done, is an option that divides the bloc of 27 countries, which depends on Russia for 40% of its gas.
Some of the EU’s pushers showed impatience with the pace of the talks after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“Why should Europe give (Russian President Vladimir) Putin more time to make more money from oil and gas? More time to use European ports? More time to use unsanctioned Russian banks in Europe? Time to switch off,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Twitter.
But Borrell assured in a press conference that, although the block “will continue to isolate Russia”, the concrete decisions will be taken later.
An EU diplomat said some hoped that by June the EU would have found enough alternative sources of energy to seriously consider an oil embargo. However, no date has been agreed, and other EU states may have other goals in mind.
Germany and the Netherlands stated that the EU is dependent on Russian oil and gas and cannot isolate itself right now.
“The question of an oil embargo is not a question of whether we want it or not, but a question of how much we depend on oil,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the reporter.
VISIT FROM BIDEN
Other possible sanctions being discussed, according to diplomats, are closing loopholes in trust funds used by oligarchs, adding new names to the sanctions list, preventing Russian ships from docking in EU ports and cutting off access from more banks to the global transfer system SWIFT.
All of this will be discussed again on Thursday, when US President Joe Biden is in Brussels for talks with the 30 members of the transatlantic NATO alliance, the EU and members of the Group of Seven (G7), including Japan, destined to withstand the West’s response to Moscow.
Diplomats have said that a Russian chemical weapons attack in Ukraine, or a heavy bombardment of the capital, kyiv, could be the trigger for the EU to move forward with an energy embargo.
But they warned that energy was one of the most complex sectors to sanction because each EU country has its own red lines.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Robin Emmott, Ingrid Melander, Bart Meijer, Marine Strauss, John Irish, Francesco Guarascio; Editing in Spanish by Javier López de Lérida)