By Leigh Thomas and Jan Strupczewski
PARIS (Reuters) – The European Union is ready to bear the economic pain of imposing sanctions on Russia, which is likely to come mainly from higher energy prices, top EU finance officials said on Friday.
EU leaders agreed on Thursday to impose new sanctions on Russia’s financial, energy and transport sectors, introduce export controls, and blacklist more Russians over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
This means countries that sell their products to Russia will see their trade revenues fall while Russia, which is Europe’s main energy supplier, may retaliate by curbing gas, oil and coal sales to the EU.
“Of course we will pay a price economically for this war,” European Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on entering talks of EU finance ministers in Paris.
“We will discuss this today, how this war will impact in our economic forecasts,” he said. “I think that it will have an impact, but the costs of reacting to this invasion, to this violation of international law, are costs that we must afford.”
The European Commission forecast earlier in February that economic growth in the 19 countries sharing the euro would be 4.0% this year, already below the 4.3% expected last November, because of more COVID-19 infections, supply chain bottlenecks and record high inflation caused by energy prices.
Gentiloni has said the Russian invasion of Ukraine now made the 4.0% growth forecast more uncertain. EU ministers said they would try to asses on Friday its impact and discuss how to soften the blow.
“We will have a discussion on how we can protect our people and our economies, there are of course consequences in the energy sectors for example, but we are prepared,” German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said.
His French counterpart Bruno Le Maire said the sanctions will be painful mainly for Russia.
“It will be the Russian economy that will pay the price for the decision Vladimir Putin, it will be the Russian people that will pay the price for the decisions Vladimir Putin. It will be the Russian oligarchs that will pay for the foolish decisions of Vladimir Putin,” he told reporters on his way to the meeting.
“Do not make any mistake about that, they will suffer from the decisions that have been taken by Vladimir Putin, not the European economy, not the world economy, but the Russian one.”
Aware of its over-dependence on Russia for gas, the EU is already drafting plans to reduce it.
“We are proposing common European procurement of natural gas, setting up strategic reserves of gas so that we reduce our dependence on Russian supplies,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.
“We are talking with other suppliers this week, the prime minister of Norway was in Brussels this week, CEO the largest Norwegian energy company Equinor . Certainly we need to strengthen our resilience against Russia’s possible market manipulation,” he said.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Leigh Thomas; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)