Leaders from Slovakia and Hungary said on Tuesday that they will not support the European Union’s latest proposal of sanctions against Russia if it includes a phased-in oil ban, posing a hurdle for the bloc as it seeks to punish Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
Opposition from either country threatens to prevent the EU from passing its sixth round of sanctions, which require the approval of all 27 member states. EU leaders indicated earlier this week that the proposal will likely include an embargo on Russian oil supplies — sparking opposition from both Hungary and Slovakia, which are deeply dependent on Russian crude oil.
EU leaders indicated earlier this week that they might include exemptions for the two countries that lack access to reliable energy alternatives.
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Representatives of the two countries clarified on Tuesday that they would insist on such exemptions before allowing an embargo to move forward.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the country will not vote for any sanctions “that will make the transport of natural gas or oil from Russia to Hungary impossible.”
“The point is simple, that Hungary’s energy supply cannot be endangered because no one can expect us to allow the price of the war … to be paid by Hungarians,” Szijjarto said.
“It is currently physically impossible for Hungary and its economy to function without Russian oil,” he added.
And Slovak Economy Minister Richard Sulik noted that Slovakia’s single oil refiner cannot immediately switch from importing Russian crude oil to another supply, telling reporters on Tuesday that doing so would take “several years.”
“So, we will insist on the exemption, for sure,” Sulik said.
Reluctance from Hungary and Slovakia comes as the EU seeks to reduce its deep reliance on Russian energy supplies. The oil embargo has been expected to be the linchpin of the EU’s sixth round of sanctions on Russia in response to its war in Ukraine.
Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters the EU has been working “intensively” on crafting the sanctions, which she said will likely include additional penalties on Russian individuals and banks.
Speaking to reporters while touring new LNG facilities in northern Greece, European Council President Charles Michel said of the effort: “We are also sanctioning Russia to put financial, economic, and political pressure on the Kremlin because our goal is simple: We must break the Russian war machine.”
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Leaders are slated to begin discussing the proposed sanctions on Wednesday, and the bloc could vote to approve them as early as this week.