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European Union leaders consider reducing their dependency on Russian energy

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Foreign ministers from the European Union are meeting today to discuss the war in Ukraine. And they're expected to approve money for supplying Ukraine with more weapons. But the big question is whether they will agree to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas. Those energy purchases provide the Kremlin with a lot of money it can use for Russia's economy or to fund its war on Ukraine. NPR's international affairs correspondent, Jackie Northam, joins us to talk about this. Jackie, the European Union has imposed sanctions on Russian individuals, banks and government entities, but it has not stopped buying Russian oil or gas. Why is that?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, the simple answer is that Europe is too dependent on Russian energy. Now, last week, the EU did announce that it was banning coal imports from Russia, and that'll be phased out over the next several months. Coal can easily be bought elsewhere, and it doesn't account for a huge slice of Russia's energy reserves. But oil and gas is different. Much of Europe relies on it to heat homes and run their factories. And cutting off those supplies could have a serious impact on their own economies. There is some discussion about slowly phasing out oil and gas or using tariffs but nothing more than talk right now. It helps that the weather is getting warmer now, so there's less need for heating homes. Also, the U.S. is looking for ways to - you know, to substitute Russian energy so maybe Europe can cut off from Russia in the future but just not right now.

MARTINEZ: So how crucial are energy exports for the Russian economy?

NORTHAM: Oh, Moscow relies on the revenue from those European oil and gas sales. You know, we're talking about $850 million a day that's going into the Kremlin. And that money is helping prop up, you know, Russia's budget but also the war effort in Ukraine. Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba - last week, he implored the European Union to crack down on Europe's energy sector. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMYTRO KULEBA: As long as the West continues buying Russian gas and oil, it is supporting Ukraine with one hand while supporting Russia war machine with another hand.

NORTHAM: And, A, Kuleba said there needed to be immediate action taken to prevent more atrocities in Ukraine that we've seen, you know, last week. And he said cutting off Russian oil and gas would be a way to do that.

MARTINEZ: And the point of considering any of this is that it might influence Vladimir Putin. How might it figure into his calculations if - if - Europe were to stop buying Russian oil and gas?

NORTHAM: Well, it would be cutting off one of Russia's main revenue streams. So it certainly would have an impact. And, you know, that could leave Putin vulnerable. Now, how that plays out is unclear. It could make Putin back down, you know, bring him to the negotiating table. But more likely, it could just make him much more dangerous because at that point, he has nothing to lose.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. Could Russia maybe turn to other countries to try and make up for the loss of revenue that it would not be getting from Europe?

NORTHAM: Right. Well, sales to places like India and China have definitely picked up. And neither country has sanctioned Russia. You know, and both countries are driving a hard bargain, and they are getting Russian crude at rock-bottom prices. But the other thing that's happening is something called self-sanctioning. So there are some countries and certainly oil traders that are just staying away from Russian crude. You know, they don't want to handle it, trade it, buy it, you know, because there's this fear that somewhere down the road, they could also be hit with sanctions just by associating with Russia.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Jackie, thanks.

NORTHAM: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.