RIGA - A gas embargo remains a contingency sanction if Russian aggression escalates even more, according to Aldis Austers, a researcher at the European Policy Research Institute, commenting to LETA about the latest rounds of EU sanctions against Russia.
At a summit earlier this week, European Union (EU) member states agreed on a sixth package of sanctions that would ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports, but did not include oil imports via pipelines due to Hungarian objections. Sanctions were also not made in connection with Russian gas imports.
Austers noted that the partial ban on Russian oil imports is an important step forward in the area of sanctions, as evidenced by the difficult negotiations between member states for almost a month. For some members of the bloc, this is a relatively difficult step, especially for those who cannot access oil by sea.
"90 percent of the oil coming from Russia is planned to be phased out from the European market by the end of the year. This is the amount of oil that Member States receive from Russia by sea. Oil from the Druzhba pipeline is not subject to sanctions. Oil through this pipeline is transported to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary," the researcher explained.
Speaking about the possibility of imposing sanctions on Russian gas, Austers said that he was not optimistic about the issue, given how difficult it was for member states to negotiate an embargo on Russian oil. Some countries, including Germany, have stated that they will not permit any sanctions in the gas sector. According to some analysts, Germany could relatively well survive a gas embargo, but politically the national government is not ready to impose such a ban, for fear of possible consequences for industry and the quality of life of the population.
"If the situation continues to escalate early next year, member states could talk about the remaining 10 percent embargo on Russian oil imports. But the gas embargo will not be on the bloc's agenda for some time," Austers said.
Asked why the negotiations on the sixth sanctions package were so difficult, the researcher pointed out that, first of all, they are also economic factors related to countries' desire to avoid severe economic shocks.
There are also political factors, such as Hungary's relations with the European Commission and other Member States, due to the anti-democratic behavior of the Hungarian Government. Hungary's relations with Ukraine have also not been very successful. Hungarians have less sympathy for Ukraine, unlike the Baltic states and Poland.
Speaking about what was left in the EU's arsenal to target Russia, Austers said there was a possibility of imposing sanctions on the immediate family of Russian President Vladimir Putin, some of whom are still unsanctioned. The gas embargo also remains in question, but something shocking needs to happen for EU Member States to agree on a Russian gas embargo.
"The strategic side must also be understood. If the EU uses all possible sanctions at once, they will immediately lose the deterrent effect. Therefore, sanctions are being implemented gradually to try to deter the aggressor and leave something important in reserve, such as gas," he said.