The European Union is struggling to finalize the terms of an oil embargo on Russia amid resistance by Hungary, whose leader claimed Friday that the proposed embargo would hit his economy like an atomic bomb.
has long cultivated close ties with Moscow and hasn’t joined other EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries in trying to arm Ukraine. He is insisting on more time and EU money if Hungary is to join the rest of the bloc in transitioning away from Russian oil, diplomats say.
Hungary’s opposition means an oil-embargo deal won’t be approved on Friday, as officials had hoped, but is still possible by Monday, according to people familiar with the EU’s negotiations. All 27 member states need to agree to the sanctions package, the bloc’s sixth since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
On Monday, Russia is due to hold its Victory Day military parade in Red Square to commemorate the end of World War II, an event that the Kremlin is planning to use as propaganda for its invasion of Ukraine.
Workers installed Russian flags in Mariupol to prepare for Victory Day celebrations amid ongoing fighting. Photo: Associated Press
The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, sent member states a proposal this week that would see the bloc stop crude-oil purchases from Russia within six months, and ban the import of Russian refined oil products by year-end. The proposed sanctions include the removal of three more Russian banks from the Swift financial messaging network and a ban on providing services to Russia, including insurance for oil shipments.
The Commission proposed offering Hungary and Slovakia, which are heavily dependent on Russian oil delivered via the Druzhba pipeline, a year longer than the rest of the EU to stop buying Russian energy imports.
However, in an updated proposal, circulated Friday by the Commission, Hungary and Slovakia were offered until the end of 2024 to cut off Russian oil imports. The Czech Republic, which has also lobbied for more time, would get until mid-2024.
Mr. Orban slammed the Commission’s proposal in an interview with state radio Friday. “The proposal on the table now creates a Hungarian problem, and there is no plan to solve it,” he said, saying his country needed five years to shift away from Russian energy.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban won reelection after pledging that Hungary would maintain a distance from the Ukraine war.
Mr. Orban accused the Commission of breaking EU unity over Ukraine, saying he had always warned that embargoes on Russian energy would be very hard on Hungary. Mr. Orban also said the bloc’s sanctions have hit the European economy harder than Russia’s—an argument that no other EU leaders have made.
Hungary’s stance on sanctions and weapons to Ukraine has led to significant friction with Mr. Orban’s right-wing allies in the Polish government, and a war of words with Ukrainian President
Mr. Orban won reelection in early April after pledging that his government would maintain a distance from the Ukraine war and reject measures that lead to Hungarian economic pain.
EU foreign policy chief
said Friday he would summon the bloc’s foreign ministers next week if no oil ban could be agreed this weekend. He also indicated Brussels would be flexible about the timetable for Hungary’s exit from Russian oil.
The fight over sanctions comes amid a backdrop of years of friction between the EU and Hungary over its increasingly authoritarian political system. Budapest denies backsliding on democracy and the rule of law, as well as allegations over the misuse of EU funds.
Brussels is holding back billions of euros of pandemic recovery funding from Hungary because of rule-of-law concerns. Last month, the Commission upped the stakes by triggering a new instrument that could allow it to freeze billions in regular funds for the country.
Officials and diplomats say the bulk of the other proposed Russia sanctions are close to approval. The latest bank sanctions are set to be approved, as are individual sanctions against military officials, and measures against individuals and broadcasters accused of spreading disinformation.
Greece and Cyprus are calling for concessions over a Commission proposal that would prevent European shipping companies from insuring shipments of Russian oil. They argue that the measure will simply lead to other countries’ tankers taking over the shipments.
On Friday, the Commission offered a longer phase-in for the insurance ban, proposing it would take effect three months after the sanctions enter force, instead of one. Officials have also said they would work with international partners to mitigate the loss of business for EU shipping firms.
Write to Laurence Norman at email@example.com
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