Bulgaria & Czech Republic Join Growing List Pushing For Exemptions On Russian Oil Embargo
It's clear at this point that to push through its Russian oil embargo, the European Commission will have to provide exemptions to Hungary and Slovakia. But the hoped-for effectiveness Brussels wants achieve by what would be a necessary generally unified EU front appears to be on shakier and shakier grounds, given the growing number of central and eastern European countries demanding to still be allowed to buy Russian oil under the "ban".
After Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Bulgaria is now the latest to jump on the exemptions bandwagon. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev first announced on Wednesday his country's intent to do so, as he stressed concern over rising fuel prices for the population.
"Bulgaria, technologically, can do without Russian oil crude, but that would push up fuel prices significantly. So, if the European Commission considers exemptions, we would like to take advantage of such exemptions," Vassilev was quoted as telling a regional media outlet.
Certainly the small but growing number of countries - with Orbán's Hungary being the first and most vocal - will likely be joined by more given the logic echoed in the Bulgarian official's above explanation.
It suggests a cascading effect on the horizon should the European Commission open the exemptions door - and then more will "take advantage" rather than making the 'sacrifice' of soaring fuel costs, the difficulty of tapping alternate supplies, and the likely ensuing political blowback domestically... all to punish Russia which in the end may come out better than individual EU countries, given the potential India-China (and others) export lifeline.
The other scenario, based on the latest words out of the Czech Republic, is that the floated six month embargo initiation timeline currently being discussed - or at least by year's end - would keep getting extended to allow countries scrambling to stave off ill effects of supply drop to be "ready"...
The Czech Republic is one of the countries that have called for a two-to-three-year transition period from the EU’s plan to ban Russian oil imports. Within this timeframe, the government hopes to enlarge alternate delivery systems such as the TAL pipeline running from Italy. But to do this, Czechia first needs to secure approval from current TAL users – Germany, Italy and Austria.
Czech prime minister Petr Fiala explained of his country's desire for an exemption, "We are ready to support this decision under the condition that the Czech Republic will be able to delay its implementation until the capacity of oil pipelines leading into the Czech Republic is increased."
We doubt Putin's wartime strategy-making will be much impacted if there's a two-to-three-year transition period before an oil ban takes effect...
"Brussels plans to ban oil imports after six months, and refined petroleum products such as gasoline after nine months, with exemptions for Hungary and Slovakia". (Politico)— Ulrich Speck (@ulrichspeck) May 4, 2022
Is this really going to affect Putin's short-term calculations with regard to the war?
Places like Bulgaria have have already seen severe momentary fuel shortages this year, which has quickly translated in to long queues and columns of cars at gas stations, driving frustration among the population as recently as the month of March. It's unlikely the average person in Europe will stomach for too long soaring prices at the pump for the sake of 'punishing Russia'.