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European Union leaders agree to ban 90% of Russian oil by the end of 2022


After weeks of intense negotiations, European Union leaders have agreed to punish the Kremlin for invading Ukraine by banning most Russian oil imports. The bloc's newest sanctions on Moscow have been held up by some countries, such as Hungary, that are heavily reliant on Russian oil. Earlier, we spoke with NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen estimates this embargo will apply to around 90% of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of this year. But other EU leaders and generally facts on the ground show that it's actually closer to two-thirds, at least in the short term. When this round of sanctions was announced a month ago, von der Leyen said the EU would ban all Russian oil. But these past few weeks have really been filled with squabbling among EU member states about all these details.

MARTINEZ: All right. So on that squabbling, who is holding up these sanctions and why?

SCHMITZ: For the most part, it was Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary and friend of Vladimir Putin, who threatened to tank the entire sanctions package. And that would have been a big embarrassment for the EU. He was concerned because Hungary receives more than 60% of its oil from Russia via pipeline. But Carnegie Europe's Judy Dempsey told me that Orban has many reasons to block the EU's actions on Russia, including weakening the EU itself from within.

JUDY DEMPSEY: You just wonder how so many of the member states tolerate this kind of maverick politician who's very devious and who has intentions to weaken the EU, which suits Russia.

SCHMITZ: So in the end, Orban dug in his heels and forced the EU to weaken what should have been a total ban on Russian oil to a ban only on sea shipments of that oil. Pipeline oil from Russia, which benefits countries like Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, will continue to flow.

MARTINEZ: OK. now let's get into what the EU did actually agree on. Oil's just really one part of these sanctions.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, that's right. This sixth round of sanctions includes an asset freeze and travel ban on individuals close to the Kremlin. It also removed Russia's biggest bank, Sberbank, from SWIFT, the global financial transfer system. Three big Russian-state-owned broadcasters will also be prevented from distributing their content within the EU. The bloc also agreed on providing Ukraine with nearly $10 billion worth of assistance to help rebuild the country's economy.

MARTINEZ: Now, on the oil, Rob, as we mentioned, I mean, not a total embargo on oil, but by the end of the year, most oil from Russia will be banned. It sounds significant. How significant is it?

SCHMITZ: Well, the EU gets more than a quarter of all of its oil from Russia, 2.4 million barrels a day. So this embargo will mean that most of that will be impacted. And Europe will now have to import its oil from other countries. And that does not appear to be a problem in the short run. A tougher task, though, will be for Europe to wean itself off of Russian natural gas. The EU depends on Russia for around 40% of its natural gas and will need to continue importing that gas because its economy really depends on it. Individual countries are working hard to wean themselves off this gas supply, but that could take years.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's NPR international correspondent Rob Schmitz joining us from Berlin. Rob, as always, thanks.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.