Switzerland mulls impact of possible EU ban on Russian oil

Greenpeace activists blocked the unloading of oil delivered by a Russian tanker to Asgardstrand, close to Oslo, Norway, as part of a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, April 25, 2022. Keystone / Ole Berg-rusten

Brussels has proposed a phased-in ban on all imports of Russian oil as part of new sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. In Switzerland, views diverge on the potential impact of European bans on the Alpine country’s energy supplies.

This content was published on May 4, 2022 - 13:28

As part of a sixth package of sanctions, on Wednesday European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a phased oil embargo on Russia. She also announced plans to sanction Russia’s top bank and ban its broadcasters from European airwaves, in a bid to deepen Moscow's isolation. These must still be validated by EU governments.

So far, Switzerland has mirrored trade and financial sanctions implemented by the EU against Russia, although it is not a member of the European bloc. Views are mixed on the potential impact on Switzerland of any future ban on Russian oil or gas to Europe. 

On Monday, Swiss Economics Minister Guy Parmelin told Swiss public television SRF that the situation would be “difficult” for Switzerland.

“Switzerland is totally dependent on oil and gas imports,” Parmelin declared.

He stressed that the Swiss state could not intervene because in Switzerland gas imports depend on the private sector, which obtains its supplies on European markets.

Gas makes up roughly 15% of Switzerland’s final energy consumption and is mostly used for heating and cooking. Around half of this comes from Russia. Following the outbreak of the war, Switzerland has been stepping up efforts to procure gas from other sources, and to secure additional storage capacity as well as imports of liquefied natural gasExternal link.

The EU has also started discussions on a possible natural gas embargo, but consensus among member countries on targeting the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes is more difficult to secure. The region gets about 40% of its natural gas from Russia.

Not threatened

Meanwhile, a senior representative of the Swiss fuel importers’ association, Avenergy Suisse, is less worried about the impact of a future European ban on oil imports from Russia.

Despite the high consumption of liquid fuels in Switzerland, most imported oil comes from North Africa and North America, not Russia, Deputy Director Fabian Bilger told Keystone SDA News Agency.

According to the Swiss foreign ministry, Nigeria, Mexico and the United States are the main sources; only 0.3% of crude oil is imported from Russia. In total, Swiss imports of crude oil represent only 25% of the total imported, while 75% is oil that has already been refined in the EU, said Bilger.

He says the oil market and their logistics are very flexible and believes Russian oil can be replaced with imports from other oil-producing countries.

“Oil can be transported in different ways, by boat, train or pipeline and there are producers around the world,” said Bilger.

“Commodities buyers in Europe seem to have already reacted to the threat of an oil embargo and are buying a lot less Russian oil.”

The European Commission's measures proposed on Wednesday include phasing out supplies of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022.

If agreed, the embargo would follow the US and Britain, which have already imposed bans to cut one of the largest income streams to the Russian economy, as the West buys more than half of its crude and petroleum products from Russia.

EU countries have paid more than €47 billion ($47.43 billion) to Russia for gas and oil since it invaded Ukraine, according to research organisation the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

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