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EU hopeful for Russian oil embargo deal in May, diplomats say

The European Union still aims to agree a phased embargo on Russia oil this month despite concerns about supply in eastern Europe, four diplomats and officials said on Friday, rejecting suggestions of a delay or watering down proposals.

Dependence on Russian oil in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia poses the biggest obstacle to an embargo deal that the European Commission, the EU executive, proposed in early May in response to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

However, the diplomats and officials said they were optimistic about a deal, even as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has struggled to convince Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the most vocal critic of the proposed embargo.

“There will be a deal,” a senior EU diplomat said, noting that there was flexibility in the proposed transition and investment levels for countries relying on Russian oil who will need to find other sources of supply.

A second senior diplomat said that agreement was possible as early as Monday when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, after technical talks expected over the weekend.

A third diplomat said there was a chance of an agreement later in the week. “This is going to be decided at the highest political level, between Budapest and Brussels. I am optimistic,” the diplomat said.

Whereas most EU states will have to fully implement a Russian oil embargo by the end of the year, Hungary has already obtained an exemption until the end of 2024, as has Slovakia, and the Czech Republic would have until mid-2024.

In addition to the oil ban, more Russians close to President Vladimir Putin are expected to be sanctioned in the same package, the sixth since the start of the Ukraine war, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is expected to call for more economic sanctions, more weapons and more financial support when he joins his EU counterparts on Monday.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Robin Emmott, Francesco Guarascio, Jan Strupczewski, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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