Prime minster: EU debate on calling Putin was 'heated'
A meeting of Europe's leaders in Brussels Tuesday, attended by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), included a 'very heated' debate on the issue of calling Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the prime minister said.
Tuesday's European Council meeting also saw the unveiling of a sixth package of sanctions aimed at the Russian Federation which, while putting in place an embargo of sorts on Russian oil imports (Hungary excepted), has made no progress on doing the same with natural gas, whose exports may continue for years to come.
With reference to the approach to Ukraine from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, Kallas told AK that: "We had a very heated debate on calling Putin."
"Also on what argument w ere presented – namely that it should demonstrated, that you can see that while we have good intentions, Putin does not want to take any steps," the prime minister continued.
"I was also able to put across my views on what the so-called benefits of doing this had been so far. However, Scholz and Macron say they are calling on [Ukrainian leader Volodomyr] Zelenskyy, as Putin is not speaking to Ukraine. Plus I understand that Zelenskyy would ask them to be a mediator."
Kallas also told EU policy media portal Euraktiv that one of the main opponents of any embargo, Hungary's Victor Orban, had proved constructive on the day.
She said: "He has one image in the media and another picture in these discussions. We looked for a solution to his concerns. He described his concerns and a solution was finally found," with this solution to mainly concern an import derogation (delaying the implementation of an EU regulation - ed.) for Hungary, and also for Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while they put in place adequate refinery facilities in their own countries."
As to the next round of sanctions, the seventh in fact, Kallas remained realistic about the likelihood of natural gas being included.
She said: "I think that the gas has to be in the seventh package but I'm a realist as well, I don't think it will be there."
AK reported that many leaders shelved their initial pessimism and ended up surprised by how quickly an agreement was struck at the European Commission meeting.
Chancellor Scholz said the sanctions: "Have a clear purpose: To put an end to this war, to take the troops home and to reach an agreement with Ukraine in a reasonable and honest peace," though the latter declaration has led to unease in much of Central and Eastern Europe on the nature of what that peace might take.
The European Council formulated its position on the sixth round of sanctions late on Monday night, as prime minister Kallas noted on her social media account.
Last night we finally agreed on 6th package of EU sanctions - including a ban on Russian oil imports. An important step to further cripple Putin's war machine.— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) May 31, 2022
We won't stop here. As Russia's war and crimes against #Ukraine rage on, we must continue isolating the Kremlin #EUCO pic.twitter.com/1khLqts4Ji
President Alar Karis tweeted that: "The EU's decision on an embargo on Russian oil was essential. It will limit the resources feeding the Russian war machine, and help us reduce dependence on Russian energy exports. But we must put more efforts into making sure that sanctions cannot be circumvented."
EU's decision on an embargo on RU oil was essential. It will limit the resources feeding the RU war machine, and help us reduce dependence on RU energy exports. But we must put more efforts into making sure that sanctions cannot be circumvented.— Alar Karis (@AlarKaris) May 31, 2022
The sixth sanctions package will see the majority of Russian oil stop flowing, barring the Hungary exemption noted above, while leaders such as Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer noting that sanctioning oil was much more straightforward than natural gas, at a time when Russian state gas producer Gazprom has already begun cutting off the supply of those European countries - most recently the Netherlands, but also Finland, Bulgaria and Poland - who have not paid for gas in roubles.
The EU leaders also discussed a longer-term investment packaged aimed at decoupling from Russian natural gas before the end of the 2020s.
Moving away from Russian coal imports was also on the table.
While Russia's invasion of Ukraine and subsequent, documented war crimes led to an immediate ban by the U.S. on imports of Russian oil, which made up a small amount of total consumption, and natural gas, which constituted virtually zero, the dependence of larger EU countries such as Germany on the flow of natural gas has complicated this matter.
In Estonia, alternatives are already being worked on, most importantly the construction of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at Paldiski, due to go on-line before year-end, which would end all dependence on natural gas from Russia.
One EU voice who has been hitting out consistently against the EU's inaction on sanctions on Russia has been MEP and former ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt.
Last Saturday, Macron and Scholz were involved in a three-way 'phone link-up with Putin, on Saturday, using the opportunity to call on the Russian leader to engage in "direct serious negotiations" with Zelenskyy, prompting politicians from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to hit out at this "humiliation", in the words of Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks.
The Franco-German-Russian communications have generated fears over what concessions might be offered to Putin, including the potential ceding of sovereign Ukrainian territory, and the lifting of some existing sanctions on Russia in return for restoring grain exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte