The European Commission proposed banning Russian oil and petroleum imports in a move that aims to punish the Kremlin for the invasion of Ukraine. The ban will phase in over the next six months, and take full effect by the end of the year.
“Putin must pay a price, a high price, for his brutal aggression,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said of the proposal.
Representatives of the European Union’s 27 member-states will meet on Wednesday to discuss ratifying the proposal, which will require unanimous agreement. Both Hungary and Slovakia — which are heavily dependent on Russian imports — have been offered 20 months to phase out imports in a concession that speaks to the delicacy of the negotiations. The proposal also makes no mention of Russian gas, even though Moscow stopped the flow of gas to both Poland and Bulgaria last week, and threatened to do so for other European countries as well.
Hungary, for its part, expressed skepticism on Wednesday. Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, told CNN that the 20-month wind-down "simply cannot be done as they require," and that the country needs at least three years.
Officials are reportedly pushing for a final decision by the end of the week.
Europe is a major market for Russia, and the ban could cause the country real pain. While Russia has the option of selling more oil and coal to China and India, doing so will come at a cost. Western sanctions have made it costly to insure Russian tankers, and the steep costs of doing business with the country make importing its fuel relatively unattractive for countries in Asia unless Russia slashes prices. In fact, China’s independent refiners have already begun buying Russian oil at steep discounts, according to the Financial Times.
Germany was particularly vocal in its support of banning Russian oil. “The transition period is sufficiently long that we can take all precautions to create alternatives to Russian oil in Germany,” said economy minister Robert Habeck.
If this happens, it could have major ripple effects, especially throughout a continent that has long relied on its neighbor to the east for energy supplies. Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine has been a salient example of the risks of relying on foreign sources of fossil fuels for energy. The proposal represents the latest evidence that the war in Ukraine has the potential to reshape energy markets. How European countries respond if they indeed cut off Russian oil could chart a course to a more sustainable future, particularly if they turn to renewables. But replacing Russian oil with oil from elsewhere could keep the world on the path to climate danger.
The proposal comes alongside the announcement of sanctions on high-ranking Russian military officials, as well as proposals to kneecap several major Russian banks by taking them off the SWIFT financial-messaging system.