Rutte: Too soon for a full boycott of Russian oil
The European Union cannot manage without oil and gas from Russia at the moment, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on a visit to Lithuania. Lithuanian President, Gitanas Nausėda, and Rutte agreed that more sanctions should be imposed on the Russian oil sector to punish the country for its invasion of Ukraine, but that this may not be able to happen immediately.
The EU must get rid of Russian oil and gas "as soon as possible, but we can't do this tomorrow," Rutte said. Too many European Union member states are still dependent on energy from Russia, the Dutch prime minister said.
A possible Russian oil boycott will be discussed at the European summit later this week. Ireland announced on Monday that it was also in favor of this, but large countries such as Germany and Italy are not yet interested in joining the initiative.
"We want to boycott the Russian energy sector," Nausėda said. He believes that Russia should be completely isolated and that European ports should be closed to Russian ships. The Netherlands is open to the latter, provided it is introduced as a European Union initiative.
Lithuania has been calling for the harshest sanctions against Russia for some time now. The country borders Belarus, which was also used by Russian troops to invade Ukraine. Therefore, Belarus must be dealt with just as harshly as Russia, the government in Lithuania believes.
During his short visit to the Baltic state, Rutte quickly met with Dutch soldiers who have been stationed in Lithuania for five years. "It is serious now," he said to the soldiers of the Limburgse Jagers, a regiment of the Dutch Army. "Five years ago, this was still theoretical."
Rutte was in Pabradė, which is only about ten kilometers from the border with Belarus. "This is the front door" to the NATO region, said the prime minister. Thousands of Russian soldiers have entered neighboring Ukraine from Belarus in recent weeks.
When NATO sent troops to Lithuania five years ago, the alliance stationed them in Rukla, 100 kilometers from the border, so as not to provoke the Russians further. The new training site is much closer to Belarus, which a soldier said was a deterrent.
The Dutch military will stay in Pabradė for three weeks to practice. On Monday, Norwegians and Americans, and soldiers from other NATO countries were also training at the new facility.
Rutte met with snipers from the Limburgse Jagers, who are based in Oirschot, near Eindhoven. Rutte said he was "very proud" of the soldiers, and took a picture with the entire platoon. "For me, this is the most beautiful part of the visit," Rutte said of the stop in Pabradė
Lithuania is currently investing heavily in its armed forces. In the coming weeks, three camps will open where 2,400 soldiers can be stationed. Nausėda also told Rutte he wants to house more NATO troops in his country. A few weeks ago, the Lithuanian parliament approved a substantial increase in the defense budget.
That will also happen in the Netherlands, Rutte promised. "We're going to add a lot of money soon." The Cabinet is already pumping 25 percent extra into Defense during this Cabinet term. As a result, an additional three billion euros will be added to the budget on a structural basis.
Rutte called on the military to speak "with pride" about their profession. The Ministry of Defense is faced with a serious personnel shortage. "You have to compete with so many professions, with healthcare, with education. But let's put the priority here for now."
About 300 Dutch soldiers are currently deployed in Lithuania. That will increase to 350. The rotation of the Limburgse Jagers started in January and they will remain in the Baltic state until the beginning of August.
Rutte traveled to Poland for consultations with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday afternoon. He will also meet Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw during the visit.
Reporting by ANP