Ukraine Summit in EU Overshadowed by Division Oil Boycott

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The scheduled EU summit on Ukraine starting Monday has been overshadowed by ongoing disagreements over an embargo on Russian oil. It is very doubtful whether the summit will bring agreement, senior EU diplomats say.

 

The leaders of the 27 EU member states will meet in Brussels in the afternoon for new consultations on Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has now been going on for more than three months. They are looking to help to keep the battered country going and rebuild it, and the weaknesses of the EU that the war has exposed. On the defence front, where holes need to be plugged. Of energy, where high prices put citizens and companies in trouble. And of food, now that there is a price in Europe and there is even a threat of hunger elsewhere.

But the mood threatens to be determined by the division over the oil boycott that EU countries have been negotiating for almost four weeks now. Although the new sixth package of sanctions is not on the agenda, “this is what concerns the leaders”. The resistance of Hungary in particular to this “nuclear bomb on the Hungarian economy” is tough, but impatience is growing. The steady flow of billions of euros into the Kremlin’s war coffers must be stopped, advocates say. Resurrected doubts about the EU’s unity and decisiveness are growing day by day.

Because previous concessions proved insufficient for Hungary, the EU now wants to exempt Russian oil that is supplied by pipeline from the embargo. Hungary requested this from the start because the country has no seaports and is therefore dependent on the so-called Druzhba pipeline. “We’ll see if it works,” said a senior EU diplomat of the compromise proposal. Other countries are now taking up arms for fear that Central Europe will soon outcompete their petrochemical companies with the cheap Druzhba oil.

The negotiations are technical and “there is still a long way to go”, the insider tempered expectations. That is not a cost for Prime Minister Rutte and his colleagues, the European Commission has already stated. It hopes for agreement in the week but is not counting on the summit.

The other EU countries still don’t suspect Hungary of wanting to spare its old ally Russia punitive measures, an EU source says. Prime Minister Orbán can count on understanding because his country simply cannot do without Druzhba oil.

It does not contain much more than a “brainstorming summit”, estimates a prominent Brussels diplomat. “Big decisions” would not be possible until the next summit in June.

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