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by Alex Pigman
EU leaders on Monday will try to persuade Hungarian President Viktor Orban to back a watered-down oil embargo against Russia after a month of haggling over the bloc’s latest sanctions. Online News
The sixth wave of measures against Moscow was put on the table weeks ago, but has been refused by Orban who argues that an oil embargo would be an “atomic bomb” against his country’s economy.
French President Emmanuel Macron cautiously told reporters that a long-sought-after deal was “getting closer”, but others doubted that the Hungarian leader was ready to sign on at this stage.
“I don’t think we’ll reach an agreement today,” said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at a political meeting ahead of the summit in Brussels.
“Of course we’re going to have discussions, but everybody needs to be on board,” she said, adding that she did not expect a solution before a summit in late June.
EU sanctions require the backing of all 27 member states and ambassadors fell short of finalising a deal just hours before the start of the summit.
A senior EU diplomat described the failure as the “elephant in the room”, especially given that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was also slated to address the leaders by video link.
Still, an EU official said the leaders would attempt to find a “political agreement” on the Russian oil ban, with exceptions for specific countries worked out “as soon as possible”.
- ‘Orban’s antics’ –
Landlocked Hungary imports 65 percent of its oil from Russia through the Druzhba pipeline and, along with Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have asked for an exception from the import ban.
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Diplomats said a two-year delay to the embargo has been granted to the countries concerned, but that Budapest wants at least four years and nearly 800 million euros ($860 million) in European funding to adapt its refineries.
“There is quite a lot of sympathy for Hungary’s oil supply issues, which are great, despite the antics by Orban,” an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The latest compromise solution would exclude the Druzhba pipeline from the embargo and only impose sanctions on oil shipped to the EU by tanker vessel, which counts for two-thirds of Russian oil imports.
“The European Council aims to reach a political agreement today on an embargo on Russian oil,” an EU official told reporters, referring to the leaders’ summit
“Some temporary exceptions have been granted to ensure security of supply for certain Member States. The council will come back to these exceptions as soon as possible.”
Hungary’s intransigence comes on the back of Orban’s recent resounding re-election to a fourth term and some experts are sceptical about the official claims of alarm over a Russian oil ban.
Also complicating the stand-off is Hungary’s share of the EU’s 800-billion-euro recovery fund, which Brussels has yet to approve due to disagreements over Budapest’s respect for the rule of law and human rights.
A senior diplomat warned that some leaders accused negotiators of going too far in their efforts to placate Orban, who before the war was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest EU ally.
The question of how we answer Russia is always “emotional” for certain member states and will be “one of the most sensitive issues” at the summit, the diplomat added.
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