Putin allies: Why Hungary is playing hardball with EU sanctions against Russia

Russia: Sanctions have 'put pressure' on Putin says Fisher

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On Wednesday, ambassadors from the European Union (EU) will meet in Brussels and continue discussions to reach an agreement on a sixth package of sanctions against Russia. Since Vladimir Putin ordered a full scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the EU has been quick to hit back at Moscow, though not every decision it’s proposed has been met with unanimous support.

Hungary – a member of both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – has condemned Russia’s invasion, it’s not offered its backing to every sanction tabled by the West.

During his time in office, Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban has nurtured a close relationship with President Putin, which has made him an outlier in Europe.

When EU officials proposed a ban on Russian energy imports, Hungary voiced its disapproval and has also refused to bilaterally provide Ukraine with weapons.

The stalemate has left leaders in Brussels puzzled as to how it can win support from Budapest.

Under plans by the bloc, the majority of member countries would end Russian oil imports by the end of this year, but these are still waiting to be signed off.

About a quarter of the EU’s oil comes from Russia, though some countries use far more and so have been offered longer deadlines to wean off their supplies.

For example, Hungary and Slovakia, landlocked countries that are nearly 100 percent dependent on Russian oil, have been offered a delay in imposing the oil embargo until the end of 2024.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has been offered a delay until June 2024.

Officials from the bloc are now considering offering financial compensation to Hungary to persuade Mr Orban to change his position, according to Politico.

The money could be channelled to Budapest as part of the REPower EU strategy, which is due to be unveiled by the European Commission next week.

But whether a payment to buy support from Hungary would be backed by a majority of EU members remains to be seen.

On Tuesday, France President Emmanuel Macron held a phone call with Mr Orban to allay concerns he has around the oil ban.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen claimed progress had been made after making a last-minute dash to Budapest to discuss the plans with Mr Orban on Monday night.

She described the discussion as “helpful to clarify issues related to sanctions and energy security”.

But she added “further work is needed” before a final agreement can be reached.

A video call promised by the Commission President, during her visit, to boost cooperation on oil infrastructure has also yet to materialise.

In April, Mr Orban was re-elected as Hungarian PM to serve a fourth consecutive term in office.

During his victory speech he hit out at Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky listing him as one of the opponents his party had faced in the election.

Mr Zelensky has previously attacked his Hungarian counterpart for taking a softer line with Russia than other EU leaders.

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