Oil wells in Baku, March 19, 2019 (AFP / Mladen ANTONOV)
Several diplomatic sources told AFP on Friday that Hungary is blocking the proposed European embargo on Russian oil and tough negotiations will continue between the 27 member states of the European Union to reach an agreement at the end of the week.
“If no agreement is reached at the end of this week, I should hold an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers next week, after Europe Day,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s diplomatic coordinator.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hardened his tone on Friday morning, saying that the European Commission’s proposal to ban purchases of oil and petroleum products from Russia by the end of the year “undermines” the unity of the European Union.
He denounced in an interview on the radio, “From the beginning, we clearly indicated that there is a red line, which is the ban on energy. They have crossed this line.”
The consensus of the 27 countries is required to adopt the sanctions.
A diplomat said that negotiations at the ambassadors level for member states are “complicated”. The first meeting ended without agreement this afternoon.
“The most important question is the security of supplies. It is existential for Hungary,” a landlocked country that depends on Russian shipments, he explained, because large technological investments are necessary to adapt refineries to other types of crude oil.
A new meeting of ambassadors is scheduled for this weekend. “It will be held when the technical consultations have made sufficient progress,” he said.
Another diplomat emphasized that “Hungary has a problem and (the ambassadors) must solve it. Technical clarifications are needed, and it will take some time. It will continue over the weekend for technical work, not politics.”
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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was confident of that. “There are countries that have different positions regarding dependence on oil and gas,” he said in an interview with Euronews.
“There are discussions with the European Commission about what the transition periods could be. However, they will not block these sanctions, as far as I know,” he said.
The proposal submitted to member states on Wednesday provides for halting imports of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022.
A one-year restriction until the end of 2023 was planned for Hungary and Slovakia, but it was considered insufficient. It was extended until the end of 2024 in the new version of the project discussed on Friday, and the Czech Republic has also given this possibility, according to concordant sources.
In 2021, Russia supplied 30% of crude oil and 15% of petroleum products purchased by the European Union. The Commission noted that the three countries that requested opt-out represented a “small percentage” of their purchases.
The inclusion of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, an outspoken supporter of the Russian offensive, among the new figures on the EU blacklist was also said to be controversial.
The sixth package of sanctions against Russia also targets the financial sector with Russia’s largest bank, Sberkank (37% of the Russian market), and two other banking institutions excluded from the international financial system SWIFT. The document seen by AFP said three Russian TV channels, including Russia’s 24 and RTR, would be banned from broadcasting in the European Union.
“I am convinced that we will adopt this package. If it takes another day, it will take another day,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The aim is for the sixth set of European sanctions to enter into force to mark the 72nd day of Europe on May 9. This date is also celebrated in Russia as “Victory Day” over Nazi Germany.