27 May, 2024

EU must stop Putin's shadow fleet

Putin's shadow fleet of old, uninsured oil tankers threatens the environment and security as long as it continues to transport Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, writes Karin Karlsbro MEP (Liberalerna, SE) with Baltic Liberal MEPs.

This article was originally published in Svenska Dagbladet on 13 May.

Ukraine has been fighting for more than two years now, but not only for its own existence. The Ukrainian people are also fighting for us. Stopping Putin's war and putting an end to Russian aggression is a common task for our countries. Peace and freedom in the Baltic Sea region are best defended together.

While we must continue to give Ukraine increased support as long as necessary, efforts to cut off the flow of money to Putin's war chest must increase and be expedited. Curtailing trade of Russian fossil fuels is therefore absolutely crucial.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the EU and several other Western countries have imposed extensive sanctions on Russia, attempting to stop the trade of Russian oil, one of the country's most important exports and sources of income for financing its war machinery. In December 2022, the G7 countries decided on an oil price cap, which means that ships circumventing sanctions and transporting more expensive Russian oil are denied access to insurance and are not allowed to dock in Western ports.

To bypass the obstacles and continue exporting to countries without sanctions or transport oil sold in violation of the price cap, the number of old, outdated ships departing from Russia, passing through the Baltic Sea, and further out through the Öresund Strait has increased dramatically. What these ships have in common is that they appear to have unclear ownership structures and lack insurance.

Recently, the media has reported that the ships are operating in the Swedish economic zone off the coast of Gotland, where the Latvian-owned ship Zircone has even been permitted to refuel the shadow fleet.

The shadow fleet operates outside established maritime regulations and standards, and new reports from the Swedish Navy confirm that the involved ships have unusual outfitting for oil tankers. The ships are said to carry equipment that could be used for intelligence and espionage.

The EU must take international action to stop the shadow fleet in the Baltic Sea and decide on sharper measures against Russia in the upcoming 14th sanctions package from the EU. In the proposal sent to Member States, it is suggested that the EU should prohibit ports from assisting ships that counteract the EU's sanctions. It is a step in the right direction, but the EU must do more to completely remove these ships from the Baltic Sea.

Suspected ships in the Baltic Sea must be inspected more rigorously, and countries should be able to demand that ships have valid insurance to sail in the Baltic Sea. The EU therefore needs to establish an effective system for verifying insurance information.

The EU also must ensure that authorities can enforce the price cap on Russian oil. Stricter requirements should be directed at financial institutions such as banks to disclose transaction information on Russian oil deals. Companies that violate the price cap or help circumvent sanctions should face harsher penalties. Those who assist in sanction violations should suffer economically.

It is important that international maritime law and the principle of freedom of the seas are respected, which is the basis for the global shipping industry's ability to sail safely and freely. But when freedom is exploited by Putin to finance his war, we must act. By passively watching, we allow Russia to set the rules for the Baltic Sea. We demand the EU take action to stop the shadow fleet and not let this activity continue to grow every day, right in front of our eyes.

Freedom and security in the Baltic Sea region must be protected and defended together.

Karin Karlsbro MEP
Liberalerna lead candidate, Sweden

Urmas Paet MEP
Former Foreign Minister and Reformeriakond lead candidate, Estonia

Petras Auštrevičius MEP
Liberalų sąjūdis, Lithuania

Ivars Ijabs MEP
Latvijas Attīstībai lead candidate, Latvia

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