Russian oil embargo, a red line?


Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday that Brussels had crossed a “red line” in wanting to ban Russian oil imports. According to him, it has “damaged” the European unity displayed since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

“The President of the Commission”, Ursula von der Leyen, “has voluntarily or not attacked European unity”, he said in a radio interview. “I said yes to the first five packages of sanctions, but we made it clear from the beginning that there was a red line: the energy embargo. They crossed that line (…), there is a moment when you have to say stop,” he added.

Hungary opposes the project in its current form

Hungary had already said Wednesday its opposition to the draft embargo “in its current form. Moreover, Mr. Orban, who was close to Russian President Vladimir Putin before the invasion, is pushing the issue further. “We need a unanimous decision, as long as the Hungarian question is not resolved, there will be no yes from Hungary,” he insisted, without using the word “veto”.

“The proposal has been sent back to the sender, to Madam President to rework it, we are waiting for a new proposal,” added the leader.

The unanimity of the 27 is imperative for the adoption of sanctions by the EU. It was obtained for the previous five rounds of sanctions. The Commission recommends in its 6th sanctions package “a ban on all Russian oil, crude and refined, transported by sea and by pipeline” by the end of 2022.

An infringement of sovereign right?

According to Viktor Orban, the Europeans had acted “the sovereign right of each country on its energy mix”. In fact, Hungary is 65% dependent on Russian oil. An embargo “would be like a nuclear bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy,” the Prime Minister said Friday. The latter has been used to arm wrestling with its European partners for twelve years.

Thus, the derogation provided for his country until the end of 2023 by the Commission is in his view by no means satisfactory, “the total transformation of the Hungarian system of transport and energy supply” requiring “five years”. In addition, it is very expensive to implement.

“We’re not going anywhere with a one-and-a-half year exemption,” he said, noting that Budapest would accept the proposal if crude oil delivered by pipelines was excluded from the package.

Mr. Orban also protested the inclusion in the sanctions package of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, an open supporter of the offensive. “We will not allow church leaders to be put on a sanctions list,” he said.

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