European sanctions hit Russian liquefied natural gas for the first time

The European Union has agreed to a new round of economic sanctions against Russian individuals and companies, the Belgian government said on Thursday. In particular, they include measures aimed at squeezing Russia's profits from the sale of liquefied natural gas to EU members.

Most EU countries stopped importing natural gas arriving by pipeline from Russia soon after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But the bloc had refrained from launching formal sanctions against the imports of Russian gas, leading many EU countries to purchase LNG from Russia, which arrives by ship.

The latest action includes measures against imports of Russian LNG passing through EU ports to other countries, known as transshipments, said a senior EU diplomat familiar with the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Sanctions still require formal approval. .

“This package provides new targeted measures and maximizes the impact of existing sanctions by filling gaps,” the Belgian government, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe, said on social media platform X.

European Union countries imported 40% of their gas from Russia before the invasion, most of which arrived overland or under water via pipelines. EU leaders banned oil and coal imports from Russia months after the invasion but allowed gas imports to continue, bowing to pressure from some countries, notably Hungary, which has strong ties to Moscow .

Pipeline imports have fallen substantially since 2022, but LNG imports, especially to Belgium, France and Spain, have increased, making the European Union the largest buyer of Russian LNG Russia exported 41 to 45 billion cubic meters of LNG per year from 2021 to 2023, and about half of that ended up in Europe, according to Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, welcomed the deal, which also includes measures focusing on financial messaging services and restrictions on exports of goods and technologies that can be used for civilian products or military, in an effort to prevent them from reaching Russia via intermediate countries.

The European Union has fought to prevent such goods from passing through countries not affected by sanctions, allowing them to reach Russia.

“This hard-hitting package will further deny Russia access to key technologies,” von der Leyen said. “This will deprive Russia of additional energy revenue. And deal with Putin's shadow fleet and shadow banking network abroad.”

The latest measures were agreed by EU ambassadors after weeks of discussions, as countries worked to protect their national interests. The rules should come into force as early as next week.

Overall, the measures will add an additional 100 Russian people and entities to the list of those affected by European sanctions, bringing the overall number to 2,200, European diplomats said.

Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed a report from Brussels.

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