Czech leader said gas will not be included in next EU sanctions package against Russia

Czech Prime Minister Petr Viala speaks during an interview with Reuters in Prague, Czech Republic, July 13, 2022. REUTERS/David W. Cerny

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PRAGUE (Reuters) – The European Union is preparing for a seventh round of sanctions against Moscow, but it is already clear that it will not limit Russian gas imports because many member states cannot adapt quickly enough, Czech Prime Minister Peter said. Fiala told Reuters.

Fiala said the sanctions now being finalized by the EU executive to increase pressure on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are expected to ban gold imports, expand the list of dual-use goods prohibited from being exported to Russia and target more individuals.

Fiala said in an interview that the European Commission should be ready to present the package in the coming days and member states could approve it immediately after that.

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“Package seven is being prepared, and I think it’s a good track,” Fiala said, speaking from his office in Prague.

“What is certainly problematic is the inclusion of energy in sanctions, because the rule must be observed that sanctions should have a greater impact on Russia than on countries that impose sanctions.”

There is no chance of including gas, Fayala said.

“I think there should not be because a number of countries depend on Russian gas,” he said.

The Czech Republic, which took over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency on July 1, is one of those countries that depends on Russia for almost all of its gas needs.

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Overall, the EU relied on Russia for 40% of its gas needs before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

The Czechs are doing their best to reduce their dependence on Russian energy, Fiala said, “but that won’t happen this winter.”

The first six rounds of sanctions included asset freezes and visa bans on Russian oligarchs and officials, export controls, a freeze on central bank assets, disqualification of banks from the SWIFT messaging system, and a ban on imports of Russian coal and oil.

But gas imports were not affected even amid calls from Ukraine for such a ban.

The latest sanctions are being prepared amid growing concerns in Europe that Russia may extend the scheduled maintenance of the major Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline that started on July 11 and is set to last 10 days.

This would further throttle European supplies and disrupt countries’ plans to fill storage for the winter, sending them into an energy crisis.

Fiala said Europe should be prepared for the possibility that flows from Nord Stream 1 may not resume, look for alternative sources of gas supplies, such as LNG, and be prepared to share supplies among member states.

Another idea he supports is to start joint gas purchases in Europe, but he cautions that it remains difficult both technically and administratively.

“I don’t want to be overly optimistic,” he said when asked if joint purchases could start as early as this year, adding that EU energy ministers would discuss the proposal at an extraordinary meeting on July 26.

(Reporting by Jason Hofitt and Robert Mueller) Editing by Kirsten Donovan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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