European Union efforts to impose an embargo on Russian oil faced more roadblocks Wednesday as Hungarian officials said they would not back the plan in its current form and recommended removing the topic from the agenda of an EU leaders' summit next week.
The EU has worked to forge a consensus among its 27 member nations for cutting off Russian oil by the end of 2022 to block a key source of revenue financing Russia’s war in Ukraine.
While some countries in central and Eastern Europe initially expressed reservations over the embargo, Hungary remains the most vocal member nation blocking the measure, which is part of a sixth proposed round of EU sanctions against Russia.
During a news conference in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Wednesday that Hungary would not vote in favour of the oil embargo proposal “as long as it makes Hungary’s energy supply impossible.”
He blamed the EU's executive branch for pushing the plan without ensuring the energy security of Hungary, which gets 85 per cent of its natural gas and more than 60 per cent of its oil from Russia.
“This problem was created by the European Commission, so the solution must be offered by the European Commission. The solution must come first, and only then can we talk about sanctions,'' Szijjarto said.
While the EU earlier offered exceptions to landlocked countries like Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic that are particularly dependent on Russian oil, granting them extended timelines for the phase-out, the government in Budapest has remained steadfast in its opposition to sanctions on Russian energy.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is considered Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest EU ally, has argued that an EU oil boycott would be an “atomic bomb'' for Hungary's economy and destroy its “stable energy supply.”
Orban wrote a letter to the president of the European Council on Monday, asking that the proposed oil embargo be taken off the agenda of the summit set to begin May 30.
In the letter to Charles Michel, Orban said Hungary was “not in a position to agree to the 6th sanctions package until the negotiations succeed in resolving all outstanding issues,'' and that a solution was “very unlikely'' to be reached before next week's summit.
“I am convinced that discussing the sanctions package at the level of leaders in the absence of a consensus would be counterproductive,'' Orban wrote. “It must remain our priority to maintain the unity of the European Union.''
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