The European Union’s pending sixth set of sanctions against Russia could be challenged by Bulgaria.
The EU is considering imposing an embargo on Russian oil but has not finalized details of the plans. Talks began late last week after Germany — the 27-member bloc’s largest economy — announced it was prepared to stop importing oil from Russia.
Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev announced on May 8 that his country would not support the latest set of sanctions unless it was given more time to transition off of Russian crude oil.
Vassilev noted during an appearance on national BNT television that Bulgaria’s only oil refinery in the Black Sea would have to alter its process, upgrading its de-sulfurization facilities to process other sources of crude oil.
Landlocked nations, including Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, have all expressed concern about the economic impacts of such an embargo even if the embargo was introduced gradually over the course of the next year. Each country would be eligible for a derogation, giving them an extended period of transition. It is unclear what specific timeframe the EU would agree to although the nations would most likely be given until 2024 to end imports of Russian fuel.
“The talks will continue tomorrow, on Tuesday too, a meeting of the leaders may be needed to conclude them,” Vassilev said on May 8. “Our position is very clear. If there be a derogation for some of the countries, we want to get a derogation too.”
While he affirmed Bulgaria’s intent to veto if necessary, the deputy prime minister seemed optimistic about the outcomes of the negotiation.
“If not, we will not support the sanctions. But I do not expect to get to that, based on the talks at the moment,” he added.
According to a report from the Internation Business Times, “EU officials have said the Black Sea-facing country has fewer structural issues and risks to its energy security could be addressed in other ways.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 4 that the proposal initially included reducing Russian crude oil imports over the next six months and ending all refined oil imports by the end of 2022.
“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,” von der Leyen said.
In addition to giving nations dependent on Russia for fuel supply more time to transition to other suppliers, the EU has agreed to “a three-month transition before banning EU shipping services from transporting Russian oil, instead of one month as initially proposed, to address concerns raised by Greece, Malta and Cyprus about their shipping companies,” per Fox News.
The sanctions are the latest in a series passed by the EU following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.