The European Union may offer Hungary and Slovakia exemptions from the Russian oil embargo

European Union flags fly before gas talks between the European Union, Russia and Ukraine at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Hermann/File Photo

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission may exempt Hungary and Slovakia from imposing a ban on purchases of Russian oil, which is now being prepared, two European Union officials said on Monday, fearing the two countries’ dependence on Russian crude.

The Commission is expected on Tuesday to finish work on the next and sixth package of EU sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, which will include a ban on the purchase of Russian oil. Oil exports are a major source of Moscow’s revenue.

Hungary, which relies heavily on Russian oil, has repeatedly said it will not sign energy sanctions. Slovakia is also among the European Union countries most dependent on Russian fossil fuels.

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One official said that in order to preserve the 27-nation unity, the commission might offer Slovakia and Hungary “an exemption or a long transition period”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba thanked Slovakia for its support of Kyiv, in what appeared to be a sign of understanding Slovakia’s position.

“Ukraine will always remember what our Slovak friends have done for us. Warm welcome to Ukrainians fleeing war, humanitarian aid, arms supplies, support for Ukraine granting EU candidate status, and allowing duty-free exports to the EU,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “We are fortunate to have Slovakia as a neighbour,” he added.

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Officials said the oil embargo is likely to be implemented in phases anyway, and is likely to come into full force from the beginning of next year.

Europe is the destination for nearly half of Russia’s exports of crude oil and petroleum products – providing Moscow with a huge source of revenue that countries such as Latvia and Poland say must be cut, to stop funding its military action in Ukraine.

European Union countries have paid nearly 20 billion euros to Russia since February 24, when it invaded Ukraine in what Moscow calls a “special military operation,” according to the research organization, the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Overall, the EU depends on Russia for 26% of its oil imports.

Slovakia and Hungary, both of which are dependent on the southern route of the Druzhba pipeline that brings Russian oil to Europe, are particularly dependent, receiving 96% and 58% respectively of their imports of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia last year, according to the International Energy Agency.

Germany, the largest buyer of Russian oil in the European Union, has said in recent days it may operate an oil embargo, having initially resisted fearing the economic cost.

The German Economy Ministry said in an energy security update on Sunday that Germany imported at 555,000 barrels per day, 35 percent of its crude oil from Russia in 2021, but reduced it in recent weeks to 12 percent.

“An oil embargo with a sufficient transitional period can now be controlled in Germany, subject to the rise in prices,” she added.

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The EU sanctions package is due to be presented to the ambassadors of EU governments on Wednesday.

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(Additional reporting by Jan Stropchevsky and Kate Abnett.) Editing by Louise Heavens, Kirsten Donovan and Leslie Adler

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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