EU leaders struggle for answer to Putin's 'energy missile'

EU leaders struggle for answer to Putin's 'energy missile'

EU leaders have disagreed over how to tackle soaring energy costs
EU leaders have disagreed over how to tackle soaring energy costs

PRAGUE - EU leaders wrestled on Friday to come up with a plan to tackle soaring energy costs as they struggled with the fallout from Russia's war on Ukraine at a summit in Prague.

President Volodymyr Zelensky urged further sanctions on Moscow's energy sector and more arms as the bloc looks to maintain its backing for Ukraine and hold a tough line against the Kremlin.

"We must be strong – until our common victory, to preserve all that we value so much," Zelensky told the leaders by videolink.

"We must invest now in our defence, in our security, in our cooperation as much as possible."

The leaders also discussed ways to better protect their critical infrastructure in the wake of leaks from the Russia-Europe Nord Stream gas pipelines that have been blamed on "sabotage".

But it was the sharp disagreements over how to tackle the energy crisis that were the major focus of attention as the 27 nations wrangled over the best plan to try to bring down prices.

Europe is facing an energy crunch as the cost of electricity generation skyrockets because of a massive surge in gas prices caused by Russia turning off the taps.

"Russia has fired an energy missile at the European continent and the world," European Council head Charles Michel said.

Governments across the bloc are scrambling to lower bills for their consumers, but they rely on different sources for their energy and are split over the solutions.

EU executive head Ursula von der Leyen is proposing a "roadmap" of measures to help ease the burden -- including potential moves to cap the price of gas.

However, there is no consensus on how any caps could work and leaders are not set to take a firm decision until a summit in Brussels later this month.

"We will have a lot of work this autumn and winter and it will not be easy," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

- Not 'intimidated' -

More than half of the bloc have pushed for the EU to impose a price ceiling on how much it would pay for gas piped or shipped in, as the northern hemisphere winter sets in.

But Germany has so far stood in the way over fears that the move could divert precious supplies away from Europe.

"A price cap on gas if that could be achieved would be grand, with the caveat that we cannot endanger security of supplies," said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins.

"We cannot set the price so that no one would sell gas into Europe."

Berlin has come under fire from other EU members for dragging its feet on the issue while announcing a 200-billion-euro ($199-billion) fund to subsidise gas purchases at home.

"My message to Germany is be united with all the others because during difficult times everybody has to agree on a common denominator," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Despite some discontent from Hungary, the bloc has managed to remain largely united in its opposition to the Kremlin as Putin has escalated the conflict by claiming four occupied regions of Ukraine.

- 'Ukraine needs support now' -

A broader summit of 44 nations from across Europe held in Prague on Thursday highlighted Moscow's isolation.

Michel insisted the EU does not "intend to be intimidated" after US President Joe Biden warned of the risk of nuclear "Armageddon" as Putin ratcheted up his threats.

The bloc is looking to maintain its backing for Kyiv as Zelensky's troops push Russian forces back on several fronts over seven months into the war.

Ukraine is urging the EU to speed up much-needed economic support, after Brussels on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding to provide five billion euros.

On the military front, the bloc is planning to launch a training mission for Ukrainian forces later this month.

It is also eyeing a possible fresh tranche of funding for arms for Ukraine that would take its overall spending on weaponry to three billion euros.

French President Emmanuel Macron for his part announced Paris was setting up a special 100-million-euro fund to allow Kyiv to buy arms directly.

"Ukraine needs our support not tomorrow, Ukraine needs support today, right now," said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

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