European Council President Charles Michel is certain that member-states will soon adopt the sixth package of EU sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, including a ban on oil imports. In an exclusive interview with Kathimerini at the airport of Alexandroupoli in northern Greece, where he attended the launch of the new floating storage regasification unit (FSRU), Michel said that the European Union and the United States are “on the same page” regarding the delivery of heavy artillery to Ukraine.
Asked about Russia’s rubles-for-gas demand, Michel said that “the best answer is the decision, which we will take immediately, on the sixth sanctions package [which] will be designed so that it is as painful as possible for the Kremlin, and not painful to ourselves.”
In a thinly disguised reference to Turkey, Michel said “we are trying to convince all third countries – and especially the ones that are candidates for membership – to align themselves with the sanctions imposed by the EU and to not leave open any loopholes.”
Turning to the prospect of a Hungarian veto on a European embargo on Russian oil, he said that “the European Council in the last two years has managed systematically to make decisions in difficult circumstances” and “this will happen now as well.” He added that “sooner or later” the embargo will also have to be extended to gas.
Analysts have expressed concern that the size of US military help to Ukraine and the rhetoric of the Biden administration could trigger a more extreme response from Russia.
“We are exactly on the same page,” Michel said, pointing to the activation of the European Peace Facility (EPF) after the February 24 invasion. “From the start of the invasion, the level of coordination – inside the EU, between NATO members – has been very high, at the highest level,” he said.
In his speech in Alexandroupoli, Michel said that “we must break the Russian war machine.” “That is the reason for the sanctions,” he explained to Kathimerini. “To put pressure on the Kremlin, using the tools at our disposal. We hope for productive talks that will lead to a ceasefire – but only Ukraine can decide what compromises it is will to make in this context,” he said.
Speaking of the FSRU, Michel said “it is exactly the kind of project we need so that we can have more choice, be more independent, be masters of our destiny. It’s a very important project, not only for Greece but for the wider region.”
“On an issue like energy, where we are making decisions with consequences that will be felt for decades, we must involve from the outset those countries with which we hope to have a common future, like the western Balkans or the countries of the Eastern Partnership,” he said.
East Med tensions
Asked about tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Michel said “we spent a lot of time on the issue in the last two years.”
“It is extremely important to fully support the sovereignty of Greece – and I want to commend [Prime Minister] Kyriakos Mitsotakis for the way in which he has kept the European Council informed, but also for his proposal for the management of the EU-Turkey relationship,” he said.
“We would like to have the best possible relationship with Turkey – but this also depends on Turkey and its behavior. And always in this relationship we will promote human right and the rule of law,” he said.