Germany Drops Opposition to Embargo on Russian Oil


BERLIN—Germany is now ready to stop buying Russian oil, clearing the way for a European Union ban on crude imports from Russia, government officials said.

Berlin had been one of the main opponents of sanctioning the EU’s oil-and-gas trade with Moscow.

However on Wednesday, German representatives to EU institutions lifted the country’s objection to a full Russian oil embargo provided Berlin was given sufficient time to secure alternative supplies, two officials said.

The German shift increases the likelihood that EU countries will agree on a phased-in embargo on Russian oil, with a decision possible as soon as next week, diplomats and officials say. However, how quickly the bloc ends its Russian oil purchases, and whether it also uses measures such as price caps or tariffs, is still being negotiated. The U.S. is pressing its European allies to avoid steps that could lead to a protracted increase in oil prices.

Europe’s debate on banning Russian oil has shifted decisively in recent days with Germany and some other countries taking practical steps to replace Russia with other suppliers. Some member states remain cautious about the economic impact of an oil embargo, including Hungary, Italy, Austria and Greece, diplomats say. All 27 EU governments must approve an oil ban.

The oil moves come as EU nations scramble to help member states Poland and Bulgaria make up for a natural gas shortfall after Russia stopped deliveries this week in reaction to what it said was the two countries’ refusal to pay for imports in rubles. The Kremlin demands EU buyers pay into special bank accounts where deposits would be converted from euros and dollars into rubles.

The EU pays state-controlled Russian firms around €1 billion, equivalent to $1.05 billion, a day for energy, according to estimates by Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank. Critics have said that these funds are bankrolling Russian President

Vladimir Putin’s

regime and its war in Ukraine.

The consequences of harsh economic sanctions against Russia are already being felt across the globe. WSJ’s Greg Ip joins other experts to explain the significance of what has happened so far and how the conflict might transform the global economy. Photo Illustration: Alexander Hotz

Senior officials from EU member states discussed oil sanctions at length on Wednesday and the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, will hold further discussions with EU countries in coming days before presenting a proposal probably early next week, officials and diplomats say.

U.S. Treasury Secretary

Janet Yellen

said last week that a full European oil embargo on Russia would push up international oil prices, hurting a fragile global economy, and might “actually have very little negative impact on Russia,” which would benefit from higher oil prices on its remaining exports. She suggested Europe could keep buying oil while restricting Russia’s access to payments, echoing talk in Europe of making payments into an escrow account.

The EU imports between 3 and 3.5 million barrels of oil a day from Russia, sending just under $400 million in payments daily, according to Bruegel. That amounts to some 27% of EU oil imports. Oil and gas revenues accounted for 45% of Russia’s federal budget in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

Many companies have been self-sanctioning, according to analysts and traders, avoiding trade in Russian oil over reputational concerns and the risk that the Western pressure campaign could soon encompass Moscow’s energy exports. That is already contributing to a sharp fall in Russian oil exports, according to the IEA.

EU officials designing the next sanctions proposals have to factor in that it will take some European oil refineries time to adapt to receive non-Russian crude. They also acknowledge that for countries such as landlocked Hungary, which receives its Russian oil through pipelines, adjusting to a Russian oil embargo will be complex.

The bloc is considering the option of combining a gradual phaseout of oil purchases with more immediate measures to reduce demand or cut payments to Moscow, such as a price cap or a tariff on oil imports. Another possibility is to phase out shipped oil purchases quickly and pipeline deliveries more slowly.

“There are all sorts of things that we’re running through,” said a senior EU official. “The aim is to hit the Russians as hard as possible while at the same time minimizing” the cost.

While Germany has swung behind the idea of phasing out Russian oil purchases, Berlin remains skeptical of price caps, tariffs and proposals to put Russia’s oil payments into escrow accounts.

German officials doubt that Mr. Putin would maintain oil deliveries if the EU unilaterally cut the price it pays, and they caution that Russia could easily sell its oil to other customers such as India and China instead of accepting a lower European price.

Berlin’s change of mind on oil came after it struck a deal with Poland that will enable Germany to import oil from global exporters via the Baltic Sea port of Gdansk, officials said Wednesday.

The Polish port is located close to the PCK oil refinery in Schwedt, Germany, which is controlled by the Russian oil giant

Rosneft

and receives crude via a Russian pipeline known as Druzhba, Russian for friendship.

The Gdansk port infrastructure, which is equipped to receive oil supertankers, is connected to the Russian pipeline with a separate link operated by Poland. This means oil imports to Gdansk could be immediately channeled through the pipeline to the Schwedt refinery, replacing Russian supplies, government officials said.

Oil imports to Gdansk, Poland, could be channeled to the Schwedt refinery, replacing Russian supplies.



Photo:

Michal Fludra/Zuma Press

The Schwedt refinery was the biggest obstacle to Germany accepting a ban on Russian oil imports because thousands of jobs in the region depend on it and there was no alternative supply to feed it until now, the officials said.

The Polish deal was necessary because the German port closest to the refinery, Rostock, doesn’t have the capacity to receive supertankers. In addition, Germany’s railways no longer operate oil wagons. The landmark deal was announced on Wednesday by German Economy Minister

Robert Habeck

during a visit to Poland.

Some 12% of Germany’s oil consumption relies on Russian imports, down from 35% before the war, Mr. Habeck said in a video statement posted on his ministry’s social media. He said Germany was now ready for the possibility that Rosneft would stop channeling oil, a scenario he said would no longer spell disaster for the German economy.

“Rosneft is a Russian state company and they have no interest in processing non-Russian oil,” Mr. Habeck said.

Should Rosneft refuse to process non-Russian oil imports, Germany could put the refinery under state management under laws protecting strategic assets. Berlin has already assumed stewardship of the main Russian gas-trading hub in Germany, a subsidiary of Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at [email protected], Laurence Norman at [email protected] and Georgi Kantchev at [email protected]

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