Orban from Hungary won an exception under the EU embargo on Russian oil

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – The leader of the Hungarian divisions has redefined himself with the European Union – this is …

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Hungary’s split leader has redefined himself with the European Union – this time in tough talks on Russian oil at a summit in Brussels.

And the prime minister-nationalist Viktor Orban did not hesitate to trumpet about his success in using the bloc to gain significant concessions, which allowed his country to continue to buy Russian oil, even if war broke out in neighboring Ukraine.

The European Commission’s proposal to ban the use of Russian oil in Hungary was rejected, Orban said in a video statement on Facebook. “Families can sleep well today because the most egregious idea has been prevented.”

EU leaders wrapped up four weeks of talks Monday on imposing a partial embargo on Russian oil imports.

The sanctions package, the sixth imposed by the EU since the start of the war in February, has been postponed due to Orban’s vigorous opposition – widely seen as the Kremlin’s closest ally in the EU – which threatened to thwart the bloc’s efforts to punish Moscow for its war. Hungary.

Although the agreement bans the import of all Russian oil into the EU by sea, it temporarily excludes imports from the Russian Druzhba pipeline to some landlocked Central European countries – something Orban advertised as the victory of Hungarian interests over what he portrayed as potentially catastrophic EU recommendations.

EU officials say the agreement will reduce 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

But this was the last time Orban broke with his European partners, sharing the bloc’s common response to the crisis and providing Russian President Vladimir Putin with economic support in the EU.

Hungary, which receives about 65% of its oil and 85% of its gas from Russia, was the only one of Ukraine’s EU neighbors who refused to supply it with military aid. He also banned the supply of deadly weapons to Ukraine across its borders, a policy that has angered many EU leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Orbán also blocked other EU decisions that require unanimity among member states, including last year’s attempts to issue a joint statement on China’s dispersal of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and a joint call for a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – also in 2021.

In 2020, Hungary joined its ally Poland in vetoing the EU’s seven-year budget and large-scale coronavirus recovery plan, halting efforts to revitalize European economies during the COVID-19 pandemic and plunging the 27-nation bloc into a political crisis.

Despite Hungary’s refusal to accept an oil embargo as proposed, EU leaders hailed Monday’s agreement as a success. European Council President Charles Michel wrote on Twitter that it covers more than two-thirds of EU oil imports from Russia, “cutting a huge source of funding for his military machine.”

But Daniel Hegedus, a Central European staffer at the German Marshall Fund, said Hungary was able to make those concessions through a “blackmail strategy” that Orbán used to put pressure on EU leaders.

“The Hungarian government got what it wanted again, it was able to involve the whole European Union,” Hegedusz said. “(Orban) has only winning cards. It can practically deny the European Union a ban on oil imports. “

Together with Hungary, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have sought to be removed from the EU embargo, arguing that their dependence on Russian oil has made it unrealistic to cut them off immediately – even if they have signaled their readiness to impose toughest sanctions against Moscow.

Slovakia receives about 97% of its oil from Russia through the Druzhba pipeline, and argues that the country’s key refiner, Slovneft, needs to be refitted to be able to process any type of oil other than Russian, a process that could take several years. .

Bulgaria, which is dependent on Russian oil and gas imports, has joined three landlocked countries in asking for temporary relief from the EU’s oil embargo. The Balkan country with Black Sea ports was the first in the EU to stop importing gas, but its leaders insist Sofia cannot complete the process immediately without Russian oil.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kirill Petkov said on Tuesday that the exemption for Bulgaria would be extended until 2024, which would give the country time to adapt its refinery so that it could process oil from other sources.

But Orban’s opponents see the concession to the pipeline as another case where an autocratic leader divides the EU to serve its own ends.

On Twitter, Hungarian MEP Katalin Cech said on Tuesday that Orbán had “brought Hungary to a desperate dependence on Russian energy resources”.

“Then he declares ‘victory’ over the EU, whose solidarity and defense is our only chance,” Czech wrote.

At home, Orbán portrayed the debate over the oil embargo as a struggle to protect Hungarians ’pocket wallets, especially with regard to utility costs, which have been subsidized by the government since 2013 as Orban’s government’s flagship policy.

But analyst Hegedus said the pipeline shutdown did not meet some of Orbán’s “main strategic goals” – forcing the EU to allocate billions of funds to Hungary to recover from the pandemic, which had been withheld due to corruption problems, and canceled current procedures to suspend support payments. for violating the rule of law.

“It was not the worst compromise that could potentially come out of this game,” Hegedus said. “It is unclear how long this exception will exist in the European Union. Of course, Orban can veto or block any potential extension of the ban on gas pipeline imports at any time in the future, but I think the European Commission has played it very wisely. “


Karel Janicek contributed to this report from Prague.


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