Hungary’s Viktor Orban wins EU exemption from Russian oil embargo

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s divisive leader has once again gone his own way with the European Union — this time in tough negotiations over Russian oil at a summit in Brussels.

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has not been shy about touting his success in using the EU to win major concessions, allowing his country to keep buying Russian crude even as war rages in neighbouring Ukraine.

Orban said in a Facebook video statement that the European Commission’s “proposal to ban the use of Russian oil in Hungary has been rejected.” “Families can get a good night’s sleep tonight because the most outrageous thoughts have been avoided.”

EU leaders ended four weeks of negotiations on Monday with a partial embargo on Russian oil imports.

The package of sanctions, the sixth imposed by the EU since the start of the war in February, was delayed due to strong opposition from Orban, widely seen as the Kremlin’s closest EU ally, who threatened to Undermine the group’s efforts to punish Moscow. If they affect Hungary’s energy imports, there will be war.

While the deal bans all Russian oil from entering the EU by sea, it allows temporary exemptions for imports of Russia’s Druzhba pipeline to certain landlocked countries in Central Europe – a victory for Orban touting for Hungary’s interests over what he has portrayed as potentially disastrous for the EU Suggest.

EU officials said the deal would successfully cut off 90 percent of Russia’s oil imports by the end of the year.

But it is the latest instance of Orban’s break with his European partners, splitting the EU’s unified response to the crisis and ensuring that Russian President Vladimir Putin still has an economic foothold in the bloc.

Hungary — which gets about 65 percent of its oil and 85 percent of its natural gas from Russia — is the only country among Ukraine’s EU neighbors to deny it military aid. It also banned the delivery of deadly weapons to Ukraine, a policy that has drawn the ire of many EU leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Orban has also blocked other EU decisions that required unanimous consent of member states, including last year’s attempt to issue a joint statement on China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and a joint call for a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — also in 2021.

In 2020, Hungary joined ally Poland in rejecting the European Union’s seven-year budget and massive coronavirus recovery plan, hampering efforts to jump-start the European economy during the COVID-19 pandemic and plunging the 27-nation bloc into political crisis.

However, despite Hungary’s refusal to impose a proposed oil embargo, EU leaders hailed Monday’s deal as a success. European Council President Charles Michel tweeted that it covers more than two-thirds of the EU’s oil imports from Russia, “cutting a huge source of funding for its war machine.”

Like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have both sought exemptions from the EU embargo, arguing that their reliance on Russian oil makes an immediate shutdown impractical.

Slovakia gets about 97 percent of its oil from Russia through the Druzhba pipeline and believes the country’s main refinery, Slovnaft, needs to be retrofitted to be able to process any oil type except Russian crude, a process that could take years.

But Orban’s opponents see the pipeline concession as another example of an authoritarian leader splitting the EU to serve his own ends.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Katalin Cseh, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, said Orbán had “made Hungary extremely dependent on Russian energy”.

“He then declares ‘victory’ over the EU, whose unity and protection is our only chance,” Cseh wrote.

At home, Orban has described the debate over the oil embargo as a struggle to defend Hungarians’ wallets, particularly as it concerns the cost of household utilities that have been subsidized since 2013 as a flagship policy of Orban’s government.

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


Karel Janicek contributed to this report in Prague.

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