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

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.

However, despite Hungary’s refusal to accept an oil embargo as proposed, EU leaders welcomed 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.”

Together with Hungary, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have sought to be exempted from the EU embargo, arguing that their dependence on Russian oil makes an immediate shutdown unrealistic.

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. .

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.

“The most important news is that we have advocated for lower utility costs,” Orban said after the EU summit on Tuesday.

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Karel Janicek contributed to this report from Prague.

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Follow the coverage of the AP war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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