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EU foreign ministers urge Hungary to sign up to proposed Russian oil embargo

Published: Updated:

EU foreign ministers sought to publicly pressure Hungary on Monday to lift its veto of a proposed oil embargo on Russia, with Lithuania saying the bloc was being “held hostage by one member state.”

The ban on crude imports proposed by the European Commission in early May would be its harshest sanction yet in response to Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine and includes carve-outs for EU states most dependent on Russian oil.

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Germany, the European Union’s biggest economy and a major buyer of Russian energy, said it wanted a deal to authorize the oil embargo, which it suggested could last for years.

“I am confident that we will find agreement in the coming days,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said as she arrived for a meeting with her counterparts. “We need to prepare it extremely well because it needs to be sustainable.”

But Hungary, Moscow’s closest ally in the EU, has said it wants hundreds of millions of euros from the bloc to mitigate the cost of ditching Russian crude. The EU needs all 27 states to agree to the embargo for it to go ahead.

“The whole union is being held hostage by one member state ... we have to agree, we cannot be held hostage,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

Few ministers called Hungary out by name as they spoke to reporters, but Romania said it was up to the bloc to bring Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government around.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Budapest had not received any serious new proposal from the European Commission regarding oil sanctions since the executive's president visited Hungary earlier this month.

“The European Commission has caused a problem with a proposal so it’s a rightful expectation from Hungary ... that the EU should offer a solution: to finance the investments and compensate for ... the (resulting) price rises which necessitates a total modernization of Hungary’s energy structure in a magnitude of 15-18 billion euros,” he said on Facebook.

Another solution would be to make oil shipments via pipeline exempt from the planned embargo, Szijjarto said.

An oil embargo, already imposed by the United States and Britain and which would follow five rounds of earlier EU sanctions, is widely seen as the best way to reduce Russian income for its war in Ukraine.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said ahead of the meeting with ministers on Monday that he was doing his utmost to break the impasse over oil sanctions.

Some diplomats now point to a May 30-31 summit as the moment for agreement on a phased ban on Russian oil, probably over six months, with a longer transition period for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

However, EU officials said there were other elements of the sanctions package proposed by the Commission that some member states indicated last week they were not ready to back.

These countries included the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Cyprus, with the latter expressing concern about a proposal to ban the sale of property to Russians.

Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.

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