© Reuters. European Union flags fly in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on January 18, 2018. Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters
By Jan Strubczewski and John Chalmers
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Top European Union diplomats meet on Monday in a last-ditch effort to agree on Russia’s oil import sanctions before their leaders meet later in the day to wrangle over the bloc’s response to the war in Ukraine to avert it.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, expressed hope ahead of the two-day summit in Brussels, where the leaders of the 27 countries will achieve few tangible results if the impasse over the oil embargo brings a broader package of sanctions on the table.
“I think we can present this afternoon an agreement to the heads of state and government of member states,” Borrell told Franceinfo.
Ambassadors failed to agree on Sunday on a proposal that would ban Russian oil shipments by sea to European Union countries by the end of this year, but would exempt oil delivered via a pipeline linking Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
EU leaders will announce their continued support for Ukraine to help it fend off the Russian offensive and will discuss how to deal with the repercussions of the conflict, particularly rising energy prices and the upcoming food crisis.
However, the talks were overshadowed by their months-long struggle to reach an agreement on a sixth round of sanctions against Moscow.
“After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, we saw what would happen if Europe stood together,” Federal Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Sunday. “I hope things continue like this with tomorrow’s summit presentation.
Other elements of the latest sanctions package include banning Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT messaging system, banning Russian broadcasters from the European Union and adding more people to the list whose assets have been frozen.
A tangible outcome of the summit will be agreement on a €9 billion ($9.7 billion) EU loan package, with a small grant component to cover some benefits, to help Ukraine keep its government working and paying wages for about two months.
Funding will be determined at a later time.
The leaders will also support the creation of an international fund to assist post-war reconstruction in Ukraine, details to be determined later, and legally freeze the tense case of expropriation, according to draft conclusions of the summit seen by Reuters on Russian assets addressing that purpose. .
Leaders will pledge to accelerate action to help Ukraine get its grain by rail and truck out of the country to global buyers as the Russian navy closes regular sea routes, and take steps to become independent of Russian energy faster.
The draft indicated that leaders will explore ways to curb rising energy prices, including the possibility of introducing temporary price caps, cutting red tape in rolling out renewables and investing in cross-border interconnection of national energy grids to better help each other.
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