EU wrestles with Russia oil embargo as leaders gather

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders will gather Monday in a new show of solidarity with Ukraine, but divisions over whether to target Russian oil in a new series of sanctions are exposing the limits of how far the bloc can go to help the war-torn country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will address the 27 heads of state and government by videoconference in the evening, has repeatedly demanded that the EU target Russia’s lucrative energy sector and deprive Moscow of billions of dollars each day in supply payments.

But Hungary is leading a group of countries — along with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria — that rely on Russian oil and can’t afford to take such steps. Hungary gets more than 60% of its oil from Russia and 85% of its natural gas. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has insisted that an oil embargo should not be discussed at the summit.

But following a meeting of ambassadors before the summit’s start, there was a glimmer of hope in EU circles that a compromise could be reached.

“The European Council aims to reach a political agreement today on an embargo on Russian oil,” an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations. “This embargo will cover more than two thirds of oil imports from Russia, i.e. all seaborne oil from Russia.”

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The EU has already imposed five rounds of sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine. The bloc has targeted more than 1,000 people, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and top government officials, as well as pro-Kremlin oligarchs, banks, the coal sector and more.

A sixth package was announced on May 4, but the holdup over oil is embarrassing the bloc, which has been forced to scale down its ambitions. When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed the package, the initial aim was to phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.

Before the summit, officials suggested that a solution to break the stalemate might be found by targeting oil transported by ships and not focusing on the pipeline oil so valuable to Hungary.

The EU gets about 25% of its oil from Russia, most of which goes toward gasoline and diesel for vehicles.

Hungary and Slovakia depend on Russian oil they receives through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline. The problem with hitting sea transported oil is that countries — like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands — that are most reliant on that form would suffer a surge in oil prices, distorting competition because Hungary would still be purchasing cheaper Russian oil.

If leaders manage to adopt the sanctions, the package will also include an asset freeze and travel ban on individuals while Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, will be excluded from the major global system for financial transfers. The EU has already banned several smaller Russian banks from SWIFT. Three big Russian state-owned broadcasters will also be prevented from distributing their content in the EU.

The two-day summit in Brussels will also focus on continued EU financial support to Ukraine — probably the endorsement of a 9 billion-euro ($9.7 billion) tranche of assistance — and on military help and war crimes investigations.

The issue of food security will be on the table Tuesday, with the leaders set to encourage their governments to speed up work on “solidarity lanes” to help Ukraine export grain and other produce.

A small group of protesters gathered outside EU buildings before the summit, with some holding signs like “No to Russian oil and gas.”

The first hurricane of the season formed off Mexico’s southern Pacific coast Sunday and rapidly gained power ahead of an expected strike along a stretch of tourist beaches and fishing towns as a major storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Agatha was expected to make landfall as a powerful Category 3 hurricane Monday afternoon or evening in the area near Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel in the southern state of Oaxaca — a region that includes the laid-back tourist resorts of Huatulco, Mazunte and Zipolite.

The center warned that the hurricane could deliver a dangerous storm surge.

By late Sunday, the recently formed hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph) — just 1 mph under the threshold for a Category 3, the hurricane center said. Agatha was centered about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southwest of Puerto Angel and heading to the northeast at 6 mph (9 kph).

The center said Agatha could have winds of 120 mph (193 kph) when it makes landfall.

A hurricane warning was in effect between the port of Salina Cruz and the Lagunas de Chacahua.

The civil defense office in Oaxaca said the hurricane’s outer bands were already hitting the coast. The office published photos of fishermen hauling their boats up on beaches to protect them from the storm.

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Municipal authorities in Huatulco ordered “the absolute closure” of all the resort’s beaches and its famous “seven bays,” many of which are reachable only by boat. They also closed local schools and began setting up emergency storm shelters.

To the east in Zipolite, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe, personnel at the small Casa Kalmar hotel gathered up outdoor furniture and put up wooden storm shutters to prevent strong winds from blowing out glass windows and doors.

“The biggest worry here is the wind,” hotel manager Silvia Ranfagni said.

With only one guest — and plenty of cancellations due to the hurricane — Ranfagni planned to ride out Agatha at the property, which is three or four blocks from the beach.

“I’m going to shut myself in here with my animals,” she said, referring to her dog and cats.

The government’s Mexican Turtle Center — a former slaughterhouse turned conservation center in Mazunte — announced it was closed to visitors until further notice because of the hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned of dangerous costal flooding as well as large and destructive waves near where Agatha makes landfall.

The storm was expected to drop 10 to 16 inches (250 to 400 millimeters) of rain on parts of Oaxaca state, with isolated maximums of 20 inches (500 millimeters), posing the threat of flash floods and mudslides.

Because the storm’s current path would carry it over the narrow waist of Mexico’s isthmus, the hurricane center said there was a chance the storm’s remnants could reemerge over the Gulf of Mexico.

In northern Guatemala, a woman and her six children died Saturday when a landslide hit their home, but the accident did not appear to be related to Agatha.