Attempts by the European Union to impose new sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine appeared to have stalled on Monday as a small group of countries opposed a ban on Russian oil imports.
The bloc has imposed five-point sanctions on Moscow since Russia invaded on February 24. President Vladimir Putin, senior officials, more than 350 lawmakers and pro-Kremlin oligarchs have had their assets confiscated and travel bans imposed. Banks, the transport sector and so-called promotional outlets were targeted.
What may have taken years in the past has been achieved in less than three months – the relative speed of light for the 27-country block. But limiting Russia’s energy revenues and eliminating their dependence on oil – not to mention gas supplies – is proving to be a tough nut to crack.
The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, on May 4 proposed a sixth package of war sanctions, including a ban on oil imports from Russia. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged at the time that securing the treaty would not be “easy.”
Hungary is one of the landlocked countries, which is heavily dependent on Russian oil, along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations. Hungary gets more than 60% of its oil from Russia and 85% from natural gas.
“We will do our best to block the situation. I can’t guarantee that this will happen because the positions are quite strong.” Brussels.
“Some member states face more problems because they are more dependent, because they are landlocked,” Borel said, and “they only have oil through the pipeline and coming from Russia.”
The watershed is the relationship between Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Urban is widely regarded as one of the Russian leader’s closest European allies. He has only reluctantly backed previous EU sanctions, including a phased embargo on Russian coal.
Since taking office in 2010, Urban has deepened Hungary’s reliance on Russian power, saying its geography and energy infrastructure make oil impossible. Its EU partners are at odds over what it believes is its reluctance to pursue oil.
“The whole union is being held hostage by a member state,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielles Landsbergis. He said the European Commission’s proposal called on members to phase out Russian oil by December 31, 2024, and “everyone hoped that would be enough.”
But his Irish counterpart, Simon Cavani, acknowledged that “these are difficult, difficult issues for some countries,” and added: “Let’s not focus on the obstacles and the negatives today.”
At the same time, Cavani said, “We must move forward and do this. We must send a very clear signal to the Kremlin and Moscow that the cost of their continued war in Ukraine, which is completely unreasonable, will continue to rise.”
For now, the ball is in Hungarian court, as the most vocal member of the opposition. Officials say the EU appears to be seeking money to invest in urban energy infrastructure. Any compromise can only be found in his talks with Von der Lane, not among the ministers.
Oil stagnation raises questions about whether the EU has reached the point of uniting on sanctions. Targeting Russia’s gas sector, on which many more countries depend, could prove even more difficult.
Officials said ahead of Monday’s meeting that a political agreement could be reached on a fourth step for aid to arms supplies to Ukraine. This would bring the total available for funding for arms purchases and other non-lethal assistance to 2 billion euros ($ 2.1 billion).