Good evening. This is your Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, a weeknight guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.
Turning off the Russian oil tap
The European Union took a major step today toward weakening President Vladimir Putin’s ability to finance the war, proposing a total embargo on Russian oil.
The plan would halt imports of crude oil in the next six months and of refined oil products by the end of the year, with some exceptions. If approved this week as expected, the ban would be the bloc’s biggest and costliest step yet toward ending its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, my colleagues Dan Bilefsky and Anton Troianovski report.
Russia’s oil sales to Europe are worth an estimated $310 million a day. Russia wants to shift those energy exports to Asia, especially China and India, but it won’t be easy. Russia would need to offer steep discounts and start the yearslong task of building more ports and pipelines for natural gas exports.
China’s independent refiners have already started buying Russian oil at steep discounts, The Financial Times reported. “If oil is available and at a discount, why shouldn’t I buy it? I need it for my people,” Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s finance minister, said last month.
For Europe, where Russia has dominated the energy market for decades, unwinding ties could also be messy. Analysts say it may lead to shortages and higher prices for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other products — a situation that could penalize consumers already struggling with inflation and, ultimately, derail the economic recovery from the pandemic.
“It will not be easy,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union’s executive arm. “Some member states are strongly dependent on Russian oil. But we simply have to work on it.”
E.U. diplomats who have seen the sanctions documents said that Hungary and Slovakia, two members with outsize dependence on Russian oil imports, would be given until December 2023 to ban the fuel.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
Fears of an expanded war rise. With the Russian military still struggling, Western officials are looking with increased alarm to Russia’s Victory Day holiday on May 9. Anxiety is growing that President Vladimir V. Putin will exploit the celebration of the Soviet triumph over the Nazis to intensify attacks and formally declare war.
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What else we’re following
Heavy fighting continued at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, according to the city’s mayor, who said he had lost contact with the remaining Ukrainian defenders there.
The Russian attack on a theater in Mariupol was far deadlier than initially estimated, killing about 600 people inside and outside the building, The Associated Press found.
The Biden administration should be less vocal about seeking to weaken Russia, Thomas Friedman writes.
Putin is failing in Ukraine but succeeding at oppressing Russia, the Economist argues.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow — Adam