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The EU can’t quite get it together on a Russian oil embargo

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a proposal this week for the European Union to impose a gradual embargo on Russian oil as part of its harshest sanctions package yet. The biggest obstacle to such a move? The bloc has yet to agree on when and how those controls will be instituted — not only signaling disunity in the bloc’s response to the invasion of Ukraine, but also potentially softening the embargo’s intended economic blow, at least in the short term.

Von der Leyen, who heads the executive arm of the EU, announced the plan as part of a broader sanctions package, which includes banning Russian propaganda outlets from broadcasting in the EU, imposing individual sanctions on Russian generals involved in the massacre at Bucha and the siege at Mariupol in Ukraine, and removing three banks, including SberBank — Russia’s largest — from the SWIFT payments system. EU member nations like Germany previously resisted the call to cut off Russian oil, citing the damage it could have on their own economies. Von der Leyen addressed those concerns, saying, “Let us be clear: it will not be easy. Some Member States are strongly dependent on Russian oil. But we simply have to work on it.”

Von der Leyen further explained that the embargo will apply to “all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined,” and that the EU will eliminate its dependence on Russian oil in “an orderly fashion,” by “[phasing] out Russian supply of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.” But shortly after the announcement, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia piped up with concerns that they wouldn’t have enough time to transition away from Russian oil before their extended deadlines — which would wreak havoc on their economies. Hungary, whose leader Viktor Orbán has maintained ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, threatened to reject the EU’s sanctions package should Hungary not be permitted to continue importing Russian crude oil via pipelines. Since EU proposals require unanimity from all member states to enact, Hungary’s veto would torpedo the whole package.

And Greece, Malta, and Cyprus brought up issues of their own, Reuters reported Friday. Those nations have the largest shipping fleets in the EU; they raised concerns about the effect the embargo would have on their shipping industries. Greek tankers in particular shipped about half of all Russian oil exports in the weeks following the invasion.

“We are against the Russian invasion and of course in favor of sanctions. But these sanctions should be targeted, and not selective in serving some member states and leaving others exposed,” Cyprus’s President Nicos Anastasiades said at a press conference.

As of this weekend, negotiations are ongoing to turn around a sanctions package that meets the needs of all member nations, but it’s unclear when the bloc will agree on a final deal — and why von der Leyen announced the package before all states were in agreement.

Vox made several attempts to reach the European Commission for comment on the status of the negotiations but did not receive a response by press time.

This is the EU’s sixth sanctions package — and its most complicated yet

As von der Leyen said, this is the most significant and complex sanctions package the EC is poised to impose on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. That means engaging in difficult negotiations and balancing competing needs and priorities.

Upon Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, “there were calls for an embargo almost immediately,” Thane Gustafson, a political science professor at Georgetown University and author of the book Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, told Vox on Saturday. “It’s taken some time to put things on the drawing board.” Given the challenge of getting all 27 member states on board with an oil embargo, Wednesday’s announcement actually came about fairly quickly; but that also indicates that EC members and leadership are “playing this by ear,” Gustafson said, hence the outcry from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and others.

Those nations don’t have energy alternatives to sustain their economies as of right now, which is why Hungary and Slovakia were initially offered an additional year — until the end of 2023 — to comply with the embargo. Hungary has requested an exemption to the import of crude oil by pipeline, and Slovakia and the Czech Republic are arguing for longer transition periods, according to the Financial Times. Although the details are still under discussion, reporting from Reuters on Friday indicated that the EC will extend the timelines for those countries to wean themselves off of Russian oil and provide assistance for refinery upgrades.

“The key thing is to bring the Hungarians on board,” Gustafson said. “There will be bargaining both ways,” he told Vox. That’s because of the EC principle of unanimity, not because Hungary — or, for that matter, Slovakia or the Czech Republic — consume enough Russian oil for their participation in the ban to matter in an economic sense, since Hungarian and Slovak imports account for only about 6 percent of the EU’s Russian oil imports, according to Reuters.

Will these sanctions deliver the intended blow to the Russian economy?

While Gustafson believes that there will be a decision on the oil embargo, “in the near term, it’s going to be a muted blow.” For one, there are still nations that will purchase Russian oil in the short term — although eventually, Gustafson told Vox, Russia will run out of the capacity to ship or store enough oil to make up for the losses from the EU embargo, thus forcing the industry to slow production, resulting in prices being driven down.

But according to the Wednesday Group, which tracks Russian oil exports, price increases on fuel have meant that Russia is raking in about as much money from sales as it did prior to the US decision to ban Russian oil imports back in March. Though the EU is the largest importer of Russian oil, the staggered transition timeline that the EC is proposing could potentially give Russia more time to negotiate exports to other nations; that’s already happening with India, the Washington Post reports,

The proposed ban is a major shift from EU policy just two months ago, when the bloc refused to join the full US embargo on Russian energy products. At that time, the bloc unveiled a plan to cut down on natural gas dependence by two-thirds by the end of this year; Wednesday’s announcement didn’t address that pledge or the topic of natural gas at all.

The natural gas question is complex, certainly, and Russia has been able to weaponize the resource, cutting off flows to Poland and Bulgaria for their refusal to buy it with rubles last month. Part of the issue, Gustafson explained, is that natural gas exports are governed by long-term contracts which can employ “take-or-pay” clauses — as in, a country either takes the product or pays for a specific amount even if it doesn’t take the gas. Shutting off access, therefore, isn’t just a matter of refusing to purchase the commodity. Finding an alternative source for natural gas isn’t that straightforward, either. The infrastructure to replace natural gas imports from Russia with imports from other countries like the US doesn’t yet exist at the necessary scale — and increased production and use would likely severely compromise climate goals.

Furthermore, Russia’s natural gas exports — both shipments as liquid natural gas and via pipelines like the now-scuttled Nord Stream 2 — have actually increased since the beginning of the war, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

But “the biggest question is Germany,” Gustafson said. The biggest economy in the EU, Germany relies heavily on Russian natural gas to heat homes and power its economy; dismantling that infrastructure without triggering a recession with wide-ranging effects will be a delicate negotiation indeed. Germany long ago developed “very elaborate” partnerships with Russia, Gustafson noted, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union. Germany’s thinking was that such economic interdependence would ensure peace in Europe, which The Daily explained in an episode last month. The invasion of Ukraine undid decades of peace, and Germany’s energy transition will have to undo decades of cooperation with and dependence on Russian sources.

If and when the EC unanimously decides a path forward to wrest EU member nations from dependence on Russian fuel, it’s not clear what the desired effect of an oil or all-out fuel embargo would be. Theoretically, the goal of cutting off profits from Russia’s fuel industry is to stop Putin’s war machine by bleeding the Russian economy. It could take quite a long time before the EU’s embargo has that significant of an effect, though.

Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t appear to have altered Putin’s viewpoint, either. The Kremlin’s response to the embargo proposal has been in line with its attitude toward Western involvement in the war, Gustafson told Vox: “The dominant response, and certainly the public response, is defiance, and defiance toward the West.”

Correction, May 8, 4:18 pm: A previous version of this story misstated the function of the EU body Ursula von der Leyen heads. It is the executive arm.

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Pope Francis Says Nothing as the CCP Arrests Catholic Leaders in China and Hong Kong

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Pope Francis remains silent as the CCP arrests and imprisons Catholic leaders in China and Hong Kong. 

Where is Pope Francis?  Why is he not leading the efforts to implement and support religious freedom in China and Hong Kong?

Last week the Cardinal in Hong Kong was arrested by the new head of the country who is a CCP plant.  Pope Francis said nothing.

Pope Francis Remains Silent About Arrest of Cardinal Zen in Hong Kong – the First Act by CCP Puppet Tyrant in Office

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Also, over the past year, the bishop in China was taken by the CCP and kept in solitary confinement for months.  No one knows where he is.  According to Breitbart:

As Breitbart News reported, officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) arrested the bishop of Xinxiang on May 21, 2021, along with 10 priests and 10 seminarians, in an effort to apply further pressure to the illegal underground Catholic Church.

Police originally took the bishop and priests to a hotel where they were kept in solitary confinement and subjected to “political sessions” to indoctrinate them with the CCP’s understanding of religious freedom, according to a report by AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

The seminarians were released after three days and the priests followed several days later, yet Bishop Zhang is still in police custody, illegally held without charges or trial at an unknown location. Chinese law stipulates that no one can be detained in solitary confinement without charges for more than three months.

Two family members were allowed to see the bishop for a few minutes during Lunar New Year celebrations, but no one is aware of where he is being held and priests are not permitted to visit or call him.

AsiaNews reported that the Catholic community in Xinxiang still hopes for their bishop’s release, while also growing worried about his physical and mental health.

The Vatican has apparently made no appeal for Bishop Zhang’s liberation.

Again, the Pope says nothing.   Now as sovereign nations hand over their healthcare freedoms to the WHO, the Pope again remains silent.

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Dan Rather Makes The Perfect Argument For Why Fox Is Not News

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Legendary journalist Dan Rather called out the insider game of Rupert Murdoch’s network and showed why Fox is not news.

Dan Rather Explains Why Fox Is A Political Operation

Rather wrote on his Substack:

Needless to say, if a reporter at a news organization other than Fox supported a candidate with half as much complicity as Hannity did Dr. Oz, it would be grounds for immediate termination. Not surprisingly, at Fox News, Hannity’s actions don’t even earn a slap on the wrist. 

….

Since its founding, Fox News has always occupied a murky place between journalism and propagandist “entertainment.” On the one hand, it does employ some real reporters. Some of Fox’s work can be considered news, albeit often filtered through an ideological lens.

….

The steady stream of hatred, racism, and vitriol emanating from Fox News deserves all the attention it receives. But just as insidious is this inside game and what it says about a media outlet that is a functional arm of the Party of Trump. 

Fox Is Using Journalism As A Cover

Fox is using journalism as a cover for its political operation.  Fox disguises itself as news and never discloses the fact that many of its high-profile employees are assisting elected officials and campaigns.

In journalism, such activities would be grounds for firing. Since Fox isn’t journalism, advising candidates and elected officials behind the backs of viewers is part of the job description.

Dan Rather was right. Fox News is not journalism, and it is also incredibly dangerous to the nation’s democratic institutions. Journalism as a profession needs to stop being afraid of the Fox fraud and call them out for what they are.

Fox is a political operation that is spreading propaganda by pretending to be news.

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Supporting the Buffalo community begins with honest conversations about racism

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Since the 1930s, Black neighborhoods have been ranked as financially unstable to dissuade lenders from approving Black homeowners for loans. This meant Black homeowners were subject to different procedures when purchasing a home, which restricted the flow of capital into Black neighborhoods and prohibited Black homeowners from buying in white neighborhoods—reinforcing segregation.

The lack of access to loans also made it more difficult for Black people to open businesses and build wealth, sparking a downward spiral of disinvestment. Today, the impacts of segregation are clearly visible in the resources available in the city of Buffalo. Of the five major employment centers in Erie County, only one is located within the city of Buffalo, and there are 51 census block groups that have limited access to supermarkets. Every single one is located east of Main Street.

“Buffalo is a powder keg,” said Franchelle Parker, executive director of Open Buffalo. “We can’t talk about what happened on Saturday as one isolated event. Buffalo has been a breeding ground for this type of situation to occur.”

Parker said people outside of Buffalo can get involved by helping to change the racist, white supremacist systems that are in place that led to the attack. Parker suggests having conversations with family and friends about the reality of Buffalo’s history and pressing politicians for policies that support the Black community. Many white supremacists involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection have been tied to western New York, a breeding ground for racist ideology.

“We can’t change the system if we ignore the symptoms of it,” said Jillian Hanesworth, the first poet laureate of Buffalo and Open Buffalo’s director of leadership development. “I want people to stop saying ‘this isn’t Buffalo,’ because it is.”

To honor the lives of those who were killed, Parker and Hanesworth say a conversation needs to happen about how decades of policy decisions have starved the East Side of Buffalo of resources, including healthy food, high-paying jobs, and quality housing. Of all people who identify as Black within the city of Buffalo, roughly 85% live east of Main Street, where Tops is the only grocery store they can walk to. Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the country.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the planning and construction of a highway system through Buffalo cut through the city’s Humboldt Parkway, a tree-lined boulevard that connected its park system. Like many other cities in the Northeast, Black people, neighborhoods, and businesses were disproportionately targeted and affected by plans for “urban revitalization.” Its effects are felt today.

“It’s not just a poor Black neighborhood,” Parker said. “Jefferson Avenue is really the cultural heartbeat of the East Side of Buffalo. And many people in our community see this as not just an isolated attack at Tops, but an attack on the entire Black culture.”

For Masten, Buffalo, Tops was not just a supermarket. It was an anchor in the community where locals would cash their checks, buy food, and connect with each other. With that anchor indefinitely closed, Open Buffalo is serving as a connective hub to help locals find the resources they need, including addressing transportation, food, and mental health needs while the city remains on high alert. Buffalo Community Fridge has set up refrigerators on the street stocked with milk, eggs, fresh fruits, and vegetables to ensure that the community stays fed. The African Heritage Food Co-op is also providing free food delivery and distribution. And Heart of the City Neighborhoods is paying up to 90 days rent for the individuals directly impacted by the attack.

“I believe that our community can get back to our heyday and even greater, but we need policy choices that protect and uplift our people,” Parker said. “There is power that our elected officials have.”

At the time of the shooting, Hanesworth was at a baby shower outside of the city. Once the news broke, her organization’s group chat was in constant communication, and she immediately went to the scene to see how she could support her community. It was a traumatizing experience to see people running to the parking lot trying to identify their loved ones’ cars.  

“It was the most intense and pure grief I’ve ever witnessed,” Hanesworth said. “It was something I’ve never seen before, and I hope I never see again.”

Hanesworth has been organizing ever since while processing the traumatic event, and said when she woke up Sunday morning, she realized she had been crying in her sleep.

“I just feel very antsy and desperate to help and to not be in the way,” Hanesworth said. “Black people across the country, we have dealt with so much. We don’t need to be told that we’re resilient. This will almost trick people into normalizing this.”

Hanesworth wants to push against the idea of “Buffalo Strong” and persevering amidst the tragedy, and instead for people outside Buffalo to recognize that the community is deeply hurting.

“We don’t need to know that we’re strong,” Hanesworth said. “We need to know that we’re safe. I just love this community so much. I always say the culture of the city of Buffalo comes out of the East Side. We are really loud. We’re hopeful. We’re musical. And I really hope that beyond people seeing us in pain that they can see that we love each other and that we’re here for each other. We’re not going anywhere.”

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. Our in-depth and thought-provoking journalism reflects the lived experiences of people most impacted by injustice. We tell stories from the ground up to disrupt harmful narratives, and to inform movements for justice. Sign up for our newsletter to get our stories in your inbox, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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