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EU leaders to seek cautious ‘phase out’ from Russian energy: Draft

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EU leaders meeting Thursday in France will call for a phase out of the continent's dependency on Russia for energy, falling short of calls, notably by Kyiv and Washington, for a cleaner break from Moscow as a supplier.

The 27 leaders of the European Union are due to meet over two days in Versailles and in a draft of a declaration, seen by AFP, will agree “to phase out our dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal imports”.

The call for a long-term withdrawal from Russian fossil fuels comes as the European Union imports about 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, a reliance that has come under urgent scrutiny after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy and export powerhouse, especially depends on the energy flow from Russia, with Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia also keenly relying on Russian gas and oil.

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At the urging of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Western allies are understood to be preparing a further wave of sanctions against Russia, with the country's crucial energy sector seen as the surest way to tighten the screws.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken on Sunday said both the United States and Europe were “very actively discussing” targeting Russian fossil fuels as the war intensifies.

But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday poured cold water on expectations that Russia's most crucial sector would be targeted by new sanctions, given its “essential” importance to Europe's economy.

“Supplying Europe with energy for heat generation, mobility, electricity supply and industry cannot be secured in any other way at the moment,” Scholz said.

According to the draft of the summit declaration, EU leaders will also agree to increase defense spending “substantially” and do so in a “collaborative way within the European Union”.

This reflects the traditional position of France, which is organizing the summit and holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Paris would like the EU to take on a stronger role in Europe's collective defense, which is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, which is deploying forces due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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