The EU is debating whether to ease a ban on Russian oil imports to appease Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán, who is blocking the latest EU sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s war machine.
As part of a compromise, the EU could ban the arrival of Russian oil by tanker but allow imports by pipeline, a proposal that would allow Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to continue to be supplied via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline running through Ukraine.
More than three weeks after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a complete ban on Russian oil imports to the EU by the end of the year, the bloc is stuck on plans. Hungary, heavily dependent on Russian oil, said it needed five years and billions of euros to upgrade its refineries.
The row threatens to overshadow a summit of European leaders on Monday and Tuesday in Brussels, formally devoted to discussing economic, political and humanitarian support for Ukraine, as well as the global food supply crisis.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is due to address European leaders via video link on Monday, last week criticized the bloc for its failure to agree to the oil embargo. “Look at the number of weeks the European Union has been trying to agree on a sixth sanctions package against Russia,” he said on Thursday, adding that the EU was paying Russia almost a billion euros per day for energy. “Where did those who blocked the sixth package get so much power?”
When the idea of excluding the pipeline was floated a few weeks ago, several member states rejected it on the grounds that it gave an unfair advantage to countries that could continue to get cheap Russian crude. Internal estimates from an EU member state suggest that Hungary could benefit from 35% cheaper oil than neighboring countries. Yet, after weeks of stalemate, a growing number of countries are looking for ways to break the impasse.
“Not having a deal or dragging things out would be the worst, but seeing the consequences of blackmail is also disappointing,” a senior EU diplomat told the Guardian, stressing that no decision had been made. socket.
The issue has deepened the rift between Hungary and its traditional Central European allies. A senior Polish diplomat said he did not understand the logic of Hungary’s policy towards Ukraine and called opposition to the oil embargo political rather than technical. “They received everything that is technically reasonable,” the diplomat said.
Hungary was offered a two-year deadline to introduce the oil embargo to give it time to retool refineries and establish new oil routes from its southern neighbor Croatia.
Some advise against rushing into a hasty deal because the proposed oil embargo was not expected to come into full effect until the end of the year.
Others say the delay sends a dire political signal as Russian military forces in the Donbass appear to be gaining the upper hand with relentless artillery and airstrikes.
Hungary further angered some EU states when it said the issue should not even be discussed at Monday’s summit. “It would only highlight our internal divisions without offering a realistic chance to resolve differences,” Orbán wrote last week to European Council President Charles Michel, who is organizing the meeting.
Budapest is seeking European funds to modernize its refineries, which currently can only take Russian oil. Orbán complained that there were not enough details on EU funds for landlocked central European states in a recent European Commission plan outlining how the EU can move away from fuels Russian fossils.
In this plan, known as RePowerEU, the European Commission has made a controversial proposal to allow member states to sell excess carbon credits that could make it cheaper to burn fossil fuels. The committee also suggested a voluntary transfer of funds from other parts of the EU budget.
But part of the decarbonization funds would be placed in a stimulus package, which is currently not available to Hungary due to long-standing concerns over the rule of law. Hungary has been denied 7.2 billion euros in funds from the EU’s Covid recovery fund because it has failed to convince EU officials that it can guarantee proper spending of the ‘silver.
Hungary is considered to be in a vulnerable position as the Druzhba (which translates to ‘friendship’) pipeline crosses Ukraine. Last week, a senior Ukrainian official described the part of the pipeline going to Hungary as “high leverage”. Olena Zerkal, adviser to Ukraine’s energy minister, said it would be “very appropriate if something happened to this pipeline”, according to comments reported by Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform.
Hungary’s opposition means other measures in the EU sanctions package have not entered into force, including tightening restrictions on Russian banks and imposing asset freezes and trading bans. travel to dozens of high-ranking Russians, including a former gymnast who is believed to be the girlfriend of Vladimir Putin and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Cyril.