The European Union is about to deliver its biggest economic blow yet to Russian President Vladimir Putin: cutting off all E.U. imports of Russian oil. It won’t happen overnight. The proposal unveiled on Wednesday calls for a phaseout of Russian oil imports over the next six months and a ban on all Russian petroleum products by the end of the year. Still, it’s a huge turning point for Europe that is long overdue.
The E.U. has built a heavy reliance on Russian energy despite warnings from the United States and other allies. Before Putin brutally invaded Ukraine, the E.U. relied on Russia for a hefty 30 percent of its oil and 40 percent of its gas needs, according to Swiss bank UBS. Putin was counting on this dependence to keep the E.U. from pushing back too hard against his assault on Ukraine. Instead, the E.U. is showing a greater unity and willingness to sacrifice for Ukraine and the global good than most would have imagined possible only a few months ago.
President Biden halted Russian oil and natural gas imports on March 8, a largely symbolic because the United States imported little from Russia. The E.U. ban will have real consequences, including a tangible financial blow to Putin. While Russia is likely to find other nations to buy some of the oil that would have gone to Europe, it will likely be a struggle to sell it all, and there will almost certainly be more discounting.