- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2022

European Union leaders gathering for a two-day summit in Brussels set low expectations for new energy sanctions on Russia to punish Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and it appeared Monday night that those modest expectations were fulfilled.

While the U.S. and Western allies quickly came together on a series of punishing waves of economic sanctions as the war began in February, the heavy reliance of some EU states on Russian oil and natural gas imports has made collective action in the sector more difficult, setting the stage for a watered-down compromise.

Late Monday night, the leaders agreed to impose an embargo on Russian oil being brought in by sea, with a temporary exemption for imports delivered by pipeline.

EU Council President Charles Michel wrote on Twitter that the ban affects two-thirds of Russia’s oil exports to the EU, “cutting a huge source of financing for its war machine. Maximum pressure on Russia to end the war.”

Hungary, which gets 60% of its oil and 85% of its natural gas from Russian pipelines, has been the most vocal EU state in warning that an immediate and total ban on Russian oil would decimate its economy.

Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic also heavily depend on the southern Druzhba pipeline from Russia for oil supplies.

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Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, proposed a full embargo of Russian oil by the end of the year more than three weeks ago, but the move exposed some of the first major cracks in EU unity against the Kremlin since the war began.

While Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has enjoyed friendly ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin while clashing repeatedly with EU officials in Brussels, has been the most vocal in his opposition to rapid, blanket oil sanctions, others in the region are also urging the EU leaders to go slow.

“We’re ready to get rid of our dependence on Russia’s energy sources … but we’re not able to do it in the short term,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told reporters.

The bargaining came as fighting in Ukraine’s south and east ground on, with Russian forces trying to advance along a much more limited front after attacks on major cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa were repelled.

Much of Monday’s action focused on fierce clashes around the city of Sievierodonetsk, the largest city in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that is still in Kyiv’s control. Witnesses reported a determined campaign by Russian tanks and troops targeting the center of the city.

“Unfortunately we have disappointing news: The enemy is moving into the city,” Serhiy Gaidai, Ukraine’s governor for the Luhansk region, said in a Monday interview on Ukrainian national television.

Some 13,000 civilian residents of the city are trapped by the fighting, authorities said.

Russian forces are said to be accelerating their campaign against towns and villages across the region, hoping to expand a separatist enclave before more U.S. and Western arms reach Ukrainian defensive forces in the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron also confirmed that French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff had been killed when hit by shrapnel in a car evacuating the city. He worked for BFM-TV, an affiliate of CNN.

On the diplomatic front, newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Blink made a quiet but symbolic return to Kyiv over the weekend, a U.S. Embassy statement confirmed.

U.S. and other foreign diplomats hastily left the capital in the days after the Russian invasion began Feb. 24, amid fears the city would quickly be overrun.

And while EU leaders struggle for a compromise, NATO’s top civilian official is already hailing next month’s summit in Madrid of the Western military alliance as a “historic” gathering that is on course to invite Sweden and Finland to join the 30-nation bloc.

He expressed confidence the two Nordic nations, each with a long history of neutrality, would soon be on course to join, despite continuing opposition from NATO member Turkey over the two countries’ actions toward militant Kurdish groups battling the Ankara government. The watered-down measures have been a source of frustration for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the EU gathering by video link later Monday.

Mr. Zelenskyy said last week the failure to adopt a full embargo was giving Mr. Putin nearly $1 billion a day to help finance his invasion and warned again Monday that internal divisions in the West kept Mr. Putin from having to seek an early end to a so-far unprofitable war.

It is past time to end “internal arguments that only prompt Russia to put more and more pressure on the whole of Europe,” the Ukrainian president said.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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